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Four Oaks offers mental health help, hope for troubled youth

Four Oaks offers mental health help, hope for troubled youth

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MASON CITY | Beth was out of control.

She was rude, mean and aggressive and was considered a danger to herself and to others.

And she was not yet 7 years old.

She was the victim of what Mark Niebauer describes as "the most outrageous cases of trauma."

Niebauer, director of programs at Four Oaks in Mason City, deals with children like Ellie every day.

"We experience the taste of sadness," he said. "But there is joy, too, as we see children make progress and move on."

Beth is one of the success stories. A custom treatment plan was designed for her that addressed her specific needs, and, over time, she was able to learn limits and coping skills.

A foster family took her in and eventually adopted her. To commemorate what she calls her new life, she now goes by the name of "Ellie."

Four Oaks has been working with children experiencing mental and behavioral issues since 1973 in what was once known as Gerard Treatment Center in the old MacNider mansion on Iowa Avenue on the outskirts of Mason City.

Recently, the 32-bed Psychiatric Medical Institute for Children opened at 80 N. Eisenhower Ave. near Francis Lauer Youth Services and the west campus of Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa.

The new facility has individual rooms for each resident and more room for the residents and staff members to spread out.

"Our original building was no longer suited to meet our children's needs," said Niebauer. "This will allow us to better serve our kids."

Ten rooms will remain on the original campus and it will stay open for outpatient services, he said.

That means there is room for 42 kids between the ages of 5 and 16, and, as of Friday, they had 41.

"We're almost always full or near full," said Niebauer.

He said while it may take a village to raise a child, "sometimes, the village cannot manage the child anymore. We address the Total Child - capital T, capital C.

"It's not like bringing a car in for an oil change. It's a lot more complicated than that."

There are several levels of treatment available to the children, who come to Four Oaks via physician referral although admission is voluntary.

And what would cause a 6 or 7-year-old to need this kind of treatment? 

"Sexual abuse, chronic physical abuse and situations where parental rights have been terminated," said Niebauer. "These kids have nowhere to go.

"The types of things that bring them here are incomprehensible — in some cases self-abuse because of the trauma they've experienced."

Niebauer said the Four Oaks programs offer troubled children something they have had trouble finding elsewhere — hope.

Anne Gruenwald, president and chief executive officer of Four Oaks, agrees. She said the treatment received by the children is only part of the Four Oaks story.

The other part, she said, are "the kids and families who hurdle obstacles to success and emerge with new-found hope and rediscovery for the future."

Like Ellie.

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