For children born with endocrine conditions or sexual development concerns, including gender dysphoria, the consequences of not having support can be significant. Gender dysphoria refers to the discord a person feels between their experienced gender identity and the gender assigned to them at birth. Children with these issues can experience discrimination and do not receive the support and understanding they need to thrive. This lack of support can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and ideation. Relationships with peers and family may be negatively impacted, leading to isolation. Furthermore, as adults these individuals have high unemployment rates and difficulty with romantic relationships. Heartbreakingly, children living with these conditions often feel discouraged about their future.
With few mental health and medical providers available to successfully navigate these issues, the need for specialized services is critical. Since 1965, the Children’s Growth Foundation, in partnership with the Center for Psychosexual Health, has worked to change the narrative for children living with endocrine conditions and sexual development concerns throughout our region. They provide counseling and mental health services in coordination with the child’s family as well as medical specialists, working very closely with the Pediatric Endocrine Clinic of the Oishei Children’s Hospital.
The need for services is also growing—between June 2017 and May 2018, over 150 new patients with gender dysphoria were served by the Center. When a referral is received, families first undergo a thorough evaluation consisting of talk therapy with the patient and family members and additional assessments. Based on the evaluation’s outcome, a treatment plan including continued counseling for the family and their child is proposed.
This treatment plan may also include inclusion in one of the Center’s therapeutic based support groups. These support groups offer an important opportunity for adolescents to gain peer support while also teaching them how to cope with various stressors utilizing coping mechanisms. A support group for parents is also in the works, which will empower parents throughout the process.
Additionally, the Foundation ensures that barriers are addressed. Many families face difficult in paying for services, whether it is due to a high insurance deductible, no medical insurance, poverty, or other family financial stressors. For families in need, the Foundation is able to provide assistance in paying for medical and non-medical needs.
The Center truly does a lot with a little—with two licensed mental health professionals and a psychologist on staff with nearly 50 years of combined experience, the Center is the only resource for children and adolescents with gender dysphoria in Western New York. Referrals come from medical and mental health professionals, schools, parents, and patients themselves.
The Variety Club gives funding to the Children’s Growth Foundation to help support programs and services for the healthy growth and sexual development of children in Western New York. These funds are used for: Psychoendocrine Services for children, adolescents and their families; Gender Dysphoria Program; the Children’s Growth Foundation’s Annual Family Conference; Medical and non-medical patient support; and Community Education Programs.