Brett Dakin – Child Mind Institute
Depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Abuse. Anxiety.
Under “normal” circumstances, many of today’s young people struggle with mental health and learning disorders. Now, add to the mix COVID-19, school closures, civil unrest.
It’s a lot for a child to process, says Brett Dakin, general counsel for the Child Mind Institute, noting that the number of parents and educators visiting its website has grown exponentially since March.
To support children and adolescents in crisis, the Child Mind Institute provides them and their families with effective, evidence-based clinical care and resources. It’s a strategy that empowers families and communities to get help and cope with the coronavirus.
“When our offices closed, we immediately moved our services online, giving us an opportunity to reach new audiences. We’re being mindful of how we communicate to a growing number of people who are seeking help in talking to and supporting children,” Dakin explains. “Many kids are stuck at home, and they continue to struggle with all of these issues. Here’s a way we can help.”
The doctor is “in”
Founded in 2009, the Child Mind Institute is an independent national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Headquartered in midtown Manhattan, the organization has research sites in Harlem and Staten Island and recently opened a clinical center in San Mateo, California.
Dakin is the one-man legal operation helping to guide the Institute, handling everything from reviewing cleaning contracts to drafting statements on systemic racism. More recently, he is working to support the Institute’s shift to telehealth, ensuring that it protects patient privacy.
Even as the Institute slowly reopens its offices, though, most appointments remain online, via video conference with a clinician. The new model is opening doors to new patients.
“During this crisis, we have found that our ability to reach families in need has improved,” Dakin says. “It’s an outcome we’re looking to build on, taking our work nationwide,” though he admits, in such a rapidly evolving situation, the leadership team doesn’t always have the answers.
“It’s not a comfortable message for leadership, but it’s important for the staff to hear,” he notes. “Transparency is key.”
The need to quickly shift gears—from handling a thorny legal issue over video conference to negotiating with a landlord— is an aspect of the job this Harvard Law School grad happens to enjoy. But it’s his role as a trusted advisor that Dakin finds most purposeful.
“Many of my colleagues are clinicians who spend their days helping people in need—but they need help as well,” Dakin says. “My job is to offer them objective advice about the issues they are confronting.”
Reflecting on his career since he earned his J.D. in 2003, Dakin points to his clerkship at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague as a formative experience—one that unexpectedly prepared him for the Institute. At the tribunal, he absorbed the often-brutal testimony of victims of war crimes committed during the Bosnia conflict.
“It was painful to listen to this testimony, but it has turned out to be helpful preparation for our work now—treating children in difficult, often tragic situations,” Dakin says, quietly.
Thankfully, the Institute’s patients and Dakin’s colleagues alike have a port in the storm where they can work through the trauma during these troubled times.
“It’s a time of great anxiety for everyone,” he adds. “Children, especially, need to know that they are never alone. We are here for them.”
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