"You're staying calm," a voice said in the young father's ear. "Good job."
Surrounded by toys in a small playroom, the father found a little hat. The girl spied it and placed it atop the plastic spud.
"Good job putting it on the potato head," the father said, patting her on the back.
"Good job for praising her and reaffirming her with touch," said the soothing voice in his ear.
The voice belonged to psychologist Irma Ocegueda, who provided the father with advice and praise through a set of ear phones from an observation room on the other side of a one-way mirror. This unique counseling session, called Parent Child Interaction Therapy, or PCIT, took place recently at the Children's Institute, Inc., in Los Angeles, or CII.
Using PCIT to serve 105 children and their families last fiscal year, CII is one of 15 agencies employing PCIT in part due to funding from First 5 LA, which will expand the program to include another 21 agencies this year.
"From my standpoint, First 5 LA comes in because they are interested in innovation and evidence-based practices," said CII President and CEO Mary M. Emmons.
Anthony Urquiza, director of the PCIT Training Center at UC Davis, says the therapy "works because roughly two-thirds of child mental health services are because of disruptive behavior. These kids, when they are in schools, have disruptive behaviors. Getting kicked out of Head Start or school does not bode well for kids. PCIT deals effectively with these kids."
A family may receive up to two dozen of the 50-minute PCIT sessions, which target children ages 2 to 7.
Among those in the observation room at CII was First 5 LA Commissioner Phillip Browning, who also heads the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. He asked questions, took notes and remarked on the progress made by both parent and child.
"I'm impressed," Browning said.
Later that same day, First 5 LA Commissioners Duane Dennis and Dr. Neil Kaufmann conducted a PCIT site visit at Counseling 4 Kids in Burbank.
The presence of the commissioners at these demonstrations was not happenstance. Bill Gould, program development officer for First 5 LA, said he hoped the commissioners can help provide contacts in their various areas of expertise and service so that newly forming PCIT programs will have a steady flow of clients to utilize the new services.
"General awareness that this service exists can be invaluable to helping utilization of the service," Gould said.
Back at CII, the young father was all smiles as his daughter relaxed with a bottle, cradled in his arms. Listening to Ocegueda provide him with positive feedback, he felt like a better father, a better man.
He was, after all, wearing a Superman t-shirt.