‘Kids at Play’ in Roxborough is setting up a new mental health program for children

The indoor therapy playground now offers supportive mental health services for children up to age 13.

Large light-up touch panel

An interactive, multi-sensory touch panel (left) and giant connect 4 (right) at the Kids at Play facility. (Marcus Biddle/WHYY)

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Kids at Play, an indoor sensory playground and pediatric therapy center, is launching a new program that combines recreation and mental health services for children.

The announcement comes as the organization relocated its facilities to Roxborough from East Falls about nine months ago.

Kids at Play offers outpatient speech, occupational and physical therapy — in addition to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) — and is now launching a program that addresses mental health issues for children.

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Director of operations Julia Bookbinder said they plan to hire certified mental health professionals who can readily assist children with behavioral health challenges on site.

“Our goal is that when you come in, you have no idea who’s getting therapy and who’s here playing,” she said. “We want to really destigmatize the concept of therapy.”

The new service launched as Kids at Play has seen a growing number of children struggling with emotional regulation, depression, anxiety and the effects of early childhood trauma.

While not involved with diagnosing or medicine management, the organization aims to hire the licensed mental health professionals by March.

Founded in 2016, Kids at Play opened as an inclusive indoor playground with neurodiversity in mind and welcoming for children with ADHD or on the autism spectrum.

The group designed its original 7,000-square-foot space in East Falls as a multi-sensory play space decorated with vibrant colors and ambient lighting.

In 2023, Kids at Play moved to a larger, 9,000-square-foot space at 7201 Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, replacing a former CVS pharmacy. The building is open to the general public, with tickets costing up to $15 per person, and a monthly membership of $75.

The new location, an ADA-accessible playground, has an indoor zip line, ball pits, interactive games, slides, and extra room for private therapy sessions.

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But Bookbinder said that a heightened awareness of mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on expanding early childhood intervention services.

“When COVID came, and the quarantine, I think that really exacerbated the already existing problem and lack of resources that we have for that specific population,” she said.

The outpatient mental health program will accept various insurance plans, including Medicaid, and provide options for families to schedule sessions weekly, bi-weekly and monthly. Talk and play therapy are among several tools the program uses.

For Kids at Play, what’s unique about this program is its focus on assisting children younger than age 13.

“There’s a lot of resources for mental health – not enough for my personal opinion – but a lot more for older teenagers and young adults and older adults, but for the younger population of children, I do think that there is a lack of resources,” she said. “A lot of the programs are five, six and up. We don’t have a bottom age limit,” said Bookbinder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 6 children ages 2-8 are diagnosed with a mental or behavioral disorder. Such mental health disorders include ADHD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 16 percent of children ages 6 and younger have “clinically significant” mental health problems.

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