Mar / 06

Bridging the Gap Between In-Home and School Based Services – A Look Into PlayWell Child Life Services [IEP 018]

IEPcontent Podcast 0

While an IEP goes a long way in helping students living with disabilities in academic settings, there are many additional needs that appear at home. What types of needs are they and what kind of services exist to support those needs? That’s exactly what we cover in this episode with our guest, Colleen Cherry.

Colleen is a certified child life specialist. Colleen runs her private practice, PlayWell Child Life Services. She works with typical and atypical kids, helping them with basic academics, get through medical situations, and deal with stressful situations

Full show transcript at the bottom of this post.

What We Cover in this Episode:

  • How Colleen’s services not only help the children at home, but they help the parents and fellow siblings as well
  • Why it’s important and valuable to have a child life services specialist
  • What type of tutoring services are available for students with special needs
  • What is adaptive tutoring?
  • How does Colleen build rapport with the children in order to get them to open up


Help Me Grow – Connection Café

Contact Information



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 Full Show Transcript

Vickie Brett:                      Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.

Amanda Selogie:              I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education, civil rights, and modern activism.

Vickie Brett:                      Each week, we’re going to explore new topics, which are going to educate and empower others …

Amanda Selogie:              … and give them a platform to knock change in education and level the plain field.

Vickie Brett:                      Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Inclusive Education Project. I was going to introduce ourselves but we haven’t done that in a long time, but I guess, I will today because we have a guest. This is Vickie.

Amanda Selogie:              This is Amanda.

Vickie Brett:                      We have Colleen Cherry with us today from PlayWell, but before we get into that, we were going to talk about our weekend, last weekend, where we did a presentation in Greenfield up in Northern California for Spanish speakers. Amanda and I made it a business trip. That’s what we tell our CPA.

Amanda Selogie:              Hey, you know what, we went up there for business. We also met with some colleagues. We have some good colleagues up in Norther California. We’re hoping, maybe one day, to expand up there. That would be nice. Got to meet with some great families up there. Of course, whenever you have a business trip, you got to have a little bit of pleasure too. We may have gone up to Napa.

Vickie Brett:                      It was a business trip. We met with our patent attorney, okay, Thomas.

Amanda Selogie:              Oh, I forgot about that. Yeah, the Inclusive Education Project-

Vickie Brett:                      Don’t say you forgot about that. I just told [Gyler 01:37] that.

Amanda Selogie:              Well, it was a long weekend, okay? We got back like late Sunday night. The Inclusive Education Project’s logo and name, hopefully, patent pending, right, patent?

Vickie Brett:                      Yes. Now, we can-

Amanda Selogie:              Yes. It is patent pending. Some great things coming soon.

Vickie Brett:                      Just a little bit of our weekend, but we’re really excited to have Colleen on the podcast. I actually met Colleen in December at the connection café that helped me grow … actually, sponsor, shout out to help me grow. You just come up to me and we just started chatting. You were telling me about the services that you provide for families. One of the things that really caught my attention was the fact that we need that in between type of person. You’re like the in-betweener. Can you explain what it is that you do?

Colleen Cherry:                Yeah. My name is Colleen Cherry. I’m a certified child life specialist, which means, I have a masters in child life. My background is also in Bachelors in Education and Minor in Art Therapy. My educational background was non-traditional. It wasn’t specifically special ed, but it wasn’t mainstream either. I worked with high school kids that were mandated back to a high school by the courts through the juvenile detention system. I work with special needs kids from six months to age 21, all different ranges of situations, both physical and mental. I decided to move child life into a private practice, which is a new realm because I saw the hole in support services for kids. Academically, I’ve worked with typical and atypical kids in tweaking and creating a tutorial program for them to help them with basic academics. I work with kids going through medical situations, being able to explain to them exactly what they’re going in for, what the procedures are going to be, and provide coping mechanisms that they can build on and utilize throughout any stressful situation in their life.

Vickie Brett:                      I just wanted to clarify. The full name is PlayWell Child Life Services. Because I know I referred to it as PlayWell and then you said Child Life Services. That’s the website if you were to go …

Colleen Cherry:                Correct.

Vickie Brett:                      … or Google it, it would be PlayWell Child Life Services.

Amanda Selogie:              Well, it was really cool when we first talked about your services. I felt it was that in between. We talked about services at school. We’ve talked about services outside of school, but then when the service provider at home leaves, there’s not that connection of … and sometimes they provide parent training but looking at how was the parent going to relate the two services together or just the idea of, “We’re teaching something to the child in their therapy session but then, how are we generalizing a home environment.” It seems like your services really bridge that gap, which is definitely needed.

Colleen Cherry:                Yeah. A lot of times, parents are giving the clinical side of it and then there’s the academic side of it, and they don’t know how to blend the two. I’m that bridge between the two. I have enough medical background. I know how to adopt things to make it work for the child. As far as the educational part, I can help them tweak any program to make it work for their specific child. Child Life is family-centered. It’s not only providing support and the needs to the one specific child, I can help the parents understand. I can give the parents tips and techniques on how to help their kids, all the kids in the family, deal with what’s going on. I’ve worked with siblings a lot as far as giving them techniques as to how they can cope with what’s going on. Many times, siblings are the ones that get lost in the shuffle. It’s understandable.

Parents are going crazy trying to get their child two medical appointments, two specialized OT/PT, all of that. The rest of the kids in the house are just bending for themselves and get lost as far as their emotional needs, their psychosocial support. Child Life is definitely family-centered care.

Vickie Brett:                      That’s great. You had mentioned before that you had personal experience working with infants to 22. How did you get involved with the special needs community?

Colleen Cherry:                I’ve always had an interest and a fondness to things that weren’t typical. Even like I said, my bachelor’s in education, it wasn’t traditional student teaching situations. I don’t fit well in a box. People give me a box and I’m going to take it apart and I’m going to redesign it. That’s basically-

Amanda Selogie:              We love that because we say that about us too, especially as attorneys. You walk into our office [inaudible 06:22] law firm.

Colleen Cherry:                Well, the other thing is, I don’t have a clinical setting. I want to come to the child, not the child to me.

Vickie Brett:                      Right. You come to the home, right?

Colleen Cherry:                I work with kids in the home if we get clearance from the school. I’ve worked with kids intensely within the school setting. Sometimes, kids aren’t comfortable with me coming to their house. We work in a park. Whatever works for the child, wherever they’re having their stressed out moment, that’s where I go; doctor’s offices, schools, homes, park, whatever works for the kid.

Vickie Brett:                      What fascinates Amanda and I is, there’s so many people doing so many different things. That’s what we really love about networking and especially going to the connection cafés because we’ve always wanted someone like you to exist. We just don’t know. That’s what happens with a lot of people and a lot of our listeners on our podcast and what we try to strive to do is, yes, we are special education attorneys. Special education is the world that we live in and we surround ourselves with people because there’s so many people doing so many great things. We’re only one aspect of it. We know the law. We can have a referral knowledge of everything else in the 13 eligibility categories and this and that and other thing, but you really are on the ground like helping families and almost helping them stick together. Not necessarily putting them back together but just helping them to stick together. I also know that you had mentioned that you’re, in our prior conversations, a grieve and loss counselor.

Colleen Cherry:                Correct.

Vickie Brett:                      I’m sure there’s a little bit of aspect. We’ve dealt with that with some of the mothers that connect with us and use us as counselors in every sense of the word where they go through a brief period of grief if their child is diagnosed. Do you deal with that a lot?

Amanda Selogie:              It’s true that-

Colleen Cherry:                It’s true. Because when a woman is pregnant, we all have that expectation of a perfect healthy little baby. Our expectations grow from there. We see that first birthday party. We see them going off to kindergarten. We see them graduating, getting married. All the very typical things that we expect for this new life that we’re bringing in to the world. It is a shock to the parents. It is a loss because it’s a loss of all those expectations. It’s a loss of that concept of what you had, of what this little person is going to be or possibly be. You need to learn how to accept those feelings and give yourself that acceptance to feel that grief and to feel that anger. All those emotions that go with it, and then figure out how to regroup and find your new norm and what are we going to do from there. That’s where I can help the family system; brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents.

Amanda Selogie:              That’s awesome. One of the things that we always say when families first get a diagnosis or maybe not even an official diagnosis but they’re coming up on their first IEP of needing someone. We always say that we want to be that person to walk them through the process because the first IEP is going to be the most influential. It’s going to set a stage for the rest of their education. I feel like when they get diagnosis, you would similarly be important role to walk them through the other side of it of kind of living. Because we can help with the education side but there’s a lot. It doesn’t relate in that way that I think you really do fill that gap until we appreciate you.

Vickie Brett:                      Actually, this conversation reminded me of a poem that one of our clients had given us. It’s by Emily Perl Kingsley and it’s, Welcome to Holland. She does a beautiful job of illustrating what we just talked about where it’s like you’re planning to go to Italy and you’re in the plane and the pilot goes, “Oh, just kidding. We’re going to Holland.” Everybody else that you know is talking about Italy. They’re going to Italy and how fabulous it is. By the end of the poem, she expresses, “But you know what, if you’re just going to live your life like regretting, like never going to Italy, you’re not going to see all the lovely things that Holland has to offer.” That really summarizes how you help parents and realize that.

Colleen Cherry:                Yeah.

Vickie Brett:                      It’s just a new parenting book, right? There is no parenting book, but it’s just a different one.

Colleen Cherry:                Right.

Vickie Brett:                      We’ve had so many people reach out to us since we started this podcast about what they do and their services, and how they want to connect and how they can they read the word. The whole point of this podcast is, we always talk to everybody that we meet about all the things that we like seeing come across and just being able to bring it to bigger audiences helpful. That’s why we’re really honored to have you on because I feel like you’re such a needed service. Parents just don’t know where to turn. It’s great. You have a website. How else can parents connect with you?

Colleen Cherry:                My website, email. Those are the two best means of connecting with me. Child Life has been around for a long time in hospitals, but having a Child Life Specialist in private practice is a new venture. There aren’t many of us throughout the whole country, but those of us that are in private practice are just getting swamped because there is such a need. This in between things, kids don’t need that full-on clinical psych but they need some help and the families need help. That’s the niche that we fit.

Amanda Selogie:              That’s great. I know we were talking about one of the services that we often recommend for our students that need a little bit more academic support is academic tutoring. We often have parents say, “Oh, can I go down the block? There’s Sylvan Learning Center,” or the other ones that are on every block, right? We always say, “Well, those are your general education and how a typical child might learn and get tutoring.” We often go to non-public agencies that can provide specialized services. You told me that you do adaptive tutoring. Tell me a little bit more about how that work and the difference between that and the traditional tutoring.

Colleen Cherry:                Traditional tutoring just has the basic goals for that grade level for that school district and that’s where they’re focused. I come in and (1) first of all, figure out what the diagnosis is and how involved that particular child is. From there, figuring out where they are at school, what the goals are for school, what the parent’s goals are for that child, academically. Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between what the school expects and what the parents expect. Many times, families are uncomfortable to express that because they rely on the expertise of the people that are out there, but everybody needs to play together in order for this to be successful. I actually talk to the parents and say, “Okay, what is your expectation? What do you want your child to gain out of this?” Look at what are the goals for the school and see where we can mash the two, where there might be a disconnect, figure out where the child’s strengths are.

I do something that I call jump and skip. If the child, particularly, has a chapter in math that they have to accomplish, I will go to the end of the chapter, go through some of the practice test questions, figure out if there’s any particular concepts that the child is lacking in. It may have been a concept from two years ago that the child didn’t master. I can work specifically on that goal, get that child set for that and go to the next chapter. If it’s fine, if they seem to do fine with the end of the chapter questions, we can skip that chapter and go to the next, so that we’re focusing on, specifically, what that child needs and what their goals are and blend the two together and come to a good conclusion.

Vickie Brett:                      You’re really like a catch all. You dabble a little bit in everything and as much as you can support the family in whatever way, you’ll be able to do that. Can you actually share, maybe, obviously not using names or anything but just a story about seeing a child progress with your services or …

Colleen Cherry:                I was brought in for an eighth grader who, for the past four years, the end of third grade up until the beginning of eighth grade, had multiple situations going on. He had a diagnosis of ADD, dyslexia. They had gone through a major medical event with the family. He ended up switching schools at one point and then switching back to the school. In the meantime, everybody felt sorry for this child. He was in a typical school setting, needed a little bit more than the typical school could give, but didn’t really fit a full-on heavy duty special ed situation as well. He came to me, basically, with a fourth grade level of education. By the time we got done with the school year, now, this was a very concentrated effort. I work with this kid three to four days a week, anywhere from one to three hours, depending on what was needed. We just did the jump and the skip.

It’s like “Okay, this is what you need to know for this class. What do you know? Show me what you know.” We would do some basic assessments, figure out where the holes were, fix the holes. He completed, basically, four years of makeup work within one school year and was just three chapter shy of coming up to speed with this entire class.

Amanda Selogie:              Wow. That’s cool.

Colleen Cherry:                He’s now in high school. He gets a little bit of assistance with a study hall kind of situation. He’s holding his own in regular classes. It was intense. It was a lot of work. He was willing to do it and the parents were willing to support what was going on.

Vickie Brett:                      Just coming into and being invited into a family’s home and then just really trying to dissect what it is that you need because obviously, the parents are like “Oh, I want you here for my child,” but I guess through our conversations, it’s more than that. If the parents need that extra support, you’re able to do that. I know that you had mentioned when we had talked that oftentimes, you will approach the child and gain that relationship and say, “You and I are conversations or our conversations. I’ll ask you.” Can you tell us a little bit more about how you build that rapport and trust with the kids and then, eventually, with the parents as well?

Colleen Cherry:                When I first meet the family, I meet the parents and the child. It is stated right upfront that whatever goes on between the child and I stays there unless the child wants me to be the go between and express whatever is going on to the parents, but in order to have that trust, in order for that child to feel secure that I am there for them first, that definitely has to be stated upfront. Whatever is shared between the child and I stays between us. The only time that is broken because I’m mandated by law is if there’s a possible danger to the child or someone else. Everybody knows upfront that I will be contacting parents and appropriate authorities to ensure the safety of everybody involved, but most of the time, I have a really good track record in having kids feel comfortable with me. They’re, again, one of the main reasons why I go to the home and I go to their school. I’m coming to the child’s territory. I’m not having a child who knows there’s something wrong, being dragged to some sterile office where they’re going to be fixed.

Amanda Selogie:              Right.

Vickie Brett:                      Yeah.

Colleen Cherry:                I’m not fixing the child. I’m empowering the child and the family with skills, coping techniques and different methods that are going to work for the whole family.

Vickie Brett:                      We keep telling you about the in between and you’re able to really build that trust with the family and the child, and because you have so many different areas that you go through. Especially where you started and just your own personal experience. Are you originally from California? I know we had this conversation.

Colleen Cherry:                No. I’m from Buffalo, New York.

Vickie Brett:                      You’re from Buffalo, but you’ve been in California for quite some time, right?

Colleen Cherry:                I actually lived in California longer than I lived in Buffalo. We’ve been out in California for 36 years.

Vickie Brett:                      What areas do you actually service in or around California or just Orange County?

Colleen Cherry:                Predominantly, Orange County. They were trying to recruit me to do Orange County and Los Angeles, but we all know what the traffic situation is like. I would only be able to service, maybe, one kid a day if I was bouncing back and forth. I try to keep it to Orange County if there is a specific need outside of the area. I can do Skypes, online phone servicing just to get the ball rolling and possibly even refer families to somebody else that I might be able to help.

Amanda Selogie:              That’s great. We can provide this initial notes as well, but maybe, if there’s a website they can go to or your email address, so if listeners want to get in contact with you.

Colleen Cherry: That’s the easiest way. My phone number is listed. My email is listed. Because I do work with kids, my schedule is erratic. I often start at seven o’clock in the morning and go until about 10:00 and then a lot of after school stuff. I can work as late as 9:30 at night. My schedule is totally based on need as opposed to what fits me.

Amanda Selogie:              That’s awesome. I know you said you’re already slammed, but I have a feeling you’re going to get a lot of phone calls after this. It’s not just what you provide, but I think how you provide it. We always talk about looking at the … using person first language but also looking at the child first of who they are and what their strengths are rather than picking a part of their weaknesses. I think we’re talking to kids especially going through a lot, it’s really important for us to remember that because they hear what you’re saying and they feel it. I was telling the parent the other day, “You have a lot of power over the way your child feels. If you’re frustrated, they’re going to be frustrated.” It’s equal as important and we’re helping them that they know that they are worthy and they have the abilities that we’re really in. That’s part of the reason we started the podcast is just spreading more knowledge and information about how empowering, not just the parents but the kids too.

Vickie Brett:                      Thank you so much, Colleen Cherry for coming on. Just in case people forgot your name. We hope that you have a pleasant afternoon, everybody, and that you enjoyed … or evening or morning. I don’t know when you’re listening to this, but I hope you enjoyed it and thank you so much, Colleen.

Colleen Cherry:                Thanks.

Vickie Brett:                      We just heard from Colleen Cherry from PlayWell Child Life Services. Again, what we were saying when we were talking to her, we come across so many different services. We have parents asking us all the time for recommendations or referrals. It’s one of those things where we try to meet as many people as we can at networking events. We actually haven’t had the chance to send anyone or have any of our clients indicate how the services are with Colleen, but we just really wanted this podcast to just show that she exist.

Amanda Selogie:              Yeah. We want to be a resource for families because too often, we have families that say, “I don’t know where to go.” We give them resources and then they go, “I can’t believe I didn’t know about the services.” We have other parents that know about so many and we learn from them. We realized there’s definitely a need for more people to be aware of this plethora of service providers and people out there that are part of this community that you’re not alone as far as there’s other parents out there that are dealing with the same situation, but there are, also, so many people that can help. What we often do when a family needs to fill some kind of void in some kind of service, we can give them recommendations, but our biggest thing is talk to these people.

We would say, “Reach out to Colleen. It seems like a good fit.” Because there’s different types of services and some may be a good fit for you and others may not. It’s always a good idea to look in and maybe sometimes try it, but giving people a call and just getting a feel for them really makes a difference.

Vickie Brett:       Yeah. One of the things that we were talking about, Colleen and one of the passions that we share is, that next generation and education, spreading awareness. She had mentioned that PlayWell is an organization. That’s nationwide that she is trying to get grad students that think, “Oh my Gosh, I’ve seen this at Chuck or I’ve seen this in another hospital and I want to know more.” That was something else that we felt like we really wanted her on the podcast because students that are in college that are thinking like “Oh, I’m a child development major.” Like “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” This might be an opportunity for you to have a job where you’re going into families’ home and really changing their lives. We hope that’s what we accomplished in that conversation. Thanks again for listening and we will talk to you later. Bye.

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