The project of establishing a center for psychosocial diagnosis and treatment for children goes back to the involvement of Fr. Geraldo Costa, CICM, in the ministry for street children in Metro Manila. In the years 1999 to 2000, Fr. Costa lived in the Senden Home Residential Center, Binangonan, Rizal while giving assistance to the children staying therein. In his dealings with the children, Fr. Costa observed that most of the children have a kind of “open wound” that hinder them to flourish to their full potential. Fr. Costa visited several other institutions in Metro Manila seeking to understand what was observed in Senden Home. He noticed that in the majority of the centers for children in special situations, that “open wound” was a constant. In interviews with directors and staff of residential and temporary shelters, he noted two main unanswered problems: first, the need to help the children to overcome past traumatic experiences, and second, the need to help the children to recover their personal development which seem to have been overwhelmed by the hardships in their lives. In a visit to the United Nations Children’s Fund-Philippines (UNICEF) and to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Metro Manila at the end of the year 1999, the same concern was expressed.
A study about the needs of the children in special situations in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, was then presented by Fr. Costa to the RP-CICM Provincial Superior in the beginning of 2000. As a response, the Provincial Superior approved a project proposal which would assist the shelters and institutions working with children in need of psychosocial assistance.
In the Academic Year of 2001-2002, several steps were made towards the organization of a psychosocial therapeutic center for children. Firstly, weekly therapy sessions were given to the children of DSWD shelters in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). Secondly, senior students from the Department of Psychology of Saint Louis University (SLU) started to give voluntary service to the Reception and Study Center for Children (RSCC) of DSWD in Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet. Thirdly, active promotion of Children’s Rights in the SLU campus and in the areas of Baguio City and Benguet was accomplished. Fourthly, a small therapeutic playroom in the Home Sweet Home Compound was opened. And lastly, therapeutic sessions were given to children who need special attention and who also come from indigent families.
In the beginning of 2003, Fr. Paul Van Parijs, CICM, then SLU President, proposed to Fr. Costa to stay in SLU and establish the project of a Center for psychosocial diagnosis and treatment for children in Baguio City. The Center would be working together with the Department of Psychology, the Clinical Pastoral Office, and the Guidance Center of the university. Despite that the first plan was to have the Center in Manila, the RP-CICM Provincial Superior approved the proposal. Consequently, the services provided at that time in the small playroom in Home Sweet Home were extended.
In March 18, 2003, the SLU Sunflower Children’s Center was officially inaugurated in the Home Sweet Home compound where a room of the old Catholic Press was transformed in three small offices and a room for therapeutic sessions. The “sunflower” symbolizes hope that the children who come to the Center will bloom and grow towards the brightness of the sun. Just like the flourishing sunflowers that sway blissfully along the mountain ridges, the Center aims to help each child optimize his or her potentials in order to thrive functionally in a caring and understanding environment.
By the Academic Year 2003-2004, two courses related to the clinical approach in handling children’s cases were offered in the Graduate Program of Psychology, namely, Clinical Interventions for Children (Psych 232), and Psychotherapy for Children (Psych 233). The enrolled students had a hands-on application of the theories they had learned by holding actual therapeutic sessions in the Center. The courses are offered every two years, thus, increasing the number of child therapists serving children in need of psychosocial assistance.
As the years passed, a steady increase in the number of clients being referred to the Center was noted. In answer to this, there was a need to improve its capacity in offering psychotherapeutic interventions and psychological assessment. This was done by increasing the number of personnel to include a psychometrician, a child therapist, an assistant director, and a good number of volunteer child therapists and psychotherapists who render services to children referred by DSWD-CAR and other indigent families. Aside from the increase in staff, the Center also expanded its physical facility. From a small room in the main building of Home Sweet Home, the Center’s facilities now include two therapeutic rooms, a counseling room, and a testing room.
Indeed, the Center has grown and is continuously growing. For future directions, it is hoped that its services will cover a wider clientele to include not only younger children but also the youth and the family. By that time, history will show how far the Center has gone and how far it will go as it continues to make a mark as an institution dedicated to providing assistance to children of the Cordilleras and beyond.