We are interested in curing mental illness, in serving children’s needs, and in undoing the crippling effects of the past. But we are equally—perhaps more—interested in challenging children with the adventure of life, in promoting improved capacity to deal with the struggles of human existence, and in anticipating the opportunities of the future.
The Owen Project
In 1961, when Walker first opened with six students—all boys with behavioral problems—the impact of this then-radical “experimental therapeutic milieu” could not have been imagined by any of those early educators.
Walker’s founder, Dr. Albert Trieschman, sought to address the special academic challenges among emotionally disturbed children. In effect, he created a practice research lab to identify solutions and develop best practices for treating and educating children with behavioral disorders. He went on to co-author The Other 23 Hours, a breakthrough publication which remains a fundamental work in the field.
This research agenda continues under the leadership of Richard Small, Ph.D., with rigorous curiosity and excellence in care delivery to the children. Dr. Small works closely with Christopher Bellonci, M.D. who is board-certified in child/adolescent and adult psychiatry, and has served as medical director and senior clinical consultant at Walker since 1995.
Walker offers an unusually rich perspective to the field, thanks to a multi-disciplinary approach to treating children which incorporates child psychiatry, mental health, special education, clinical social work, physical health, occupational therapy, and speech and language intervention. This multi-disciplinary and holistic point of view enables Walker staff to expand the conversation beyond the traditional boundaries of medicine, special education, and child welfare, and, in effect, challenge traditional thinking.
The emergence of the bi-polar diagnosis in children and the increasing availability of psychotropic medications to treat adult manifestations of psychiatric illness in children have led to the establishment of a new research initiative called The Owen Project.
The Owen Project will support Dr. Bellonci and a number of other researchers from other academic and research institutions as they collaborate in a new naturalistic study of the children that present to Walker. The project is still in formation and has been funded in part through the generous support of a member of Walker’s corporation
Walker has influenced the national debate on issues related to children and families. Dr. Bellonci recently provided testimony to the U.S. Congress regarding the utilization of psychotropic medication for children in foster care. He also helped modify protocols for behavior management and psychotropic medications for youth in Tennessee’s child welfare system, as a recent example of the impact on public policy and best practices.
These and many other national conversations demonstrate Walker’s significant contributions beyond the agency, and the efforts of Dr. Small, Dr. Bellonci, and others to share their expertise and knowledge gained at Walker to contribute to the larger fields of child mental health, child welfare, and special education.
—Walker founder Dr. Albert E. Trieschman, in The Other 23 Hours, 1969