A New Model of "Health-Caring": Empowering Communities, Families, & Children with Special Health Care Needs to Nurture Their Wellbeing

What if every child knew they were their own best healer? What if health care was modeled to support kids in mind, body, heart & spirit?

Photo of Shay Beider
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Integrative Touch for Kids (ITK) was created when founder, Shay Beider's life was forever changed by one little girl in the hospital, who was frightened and alone as she was about to undergo surgery. As a pre-med student, Shay witnessed this little girl go under anesthesia in a state of intense fear. She watched as the system aimed to support this child's physical needs at the high expense of denying her emotional and psycho-spiritual wellbeing. In that moment, Shay knew things did not have to be this way. She understood the profound importance of the provision of care for the wholeness of each child - in body, mind, heart and spirit. Integrative Touch for Kids was founded to protect children from unnecessary suffering, re-define family health care to include a sense of safety, self-awareness and community connection, and expand the concept of wellbeing to include physical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual needs - ultimately ensuring optimal healing.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • Middle Eastern or North African (for example: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Algerian)
  • Native American or Alaska Native (for example: Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupial Traditional Government, Nome Eskimo Community)
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (for example: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Arizona

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Arizona

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Our organization primarily impacts families in the Southwest region of the US including: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and Nevada - as well as Illinois.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

1 in 5 children has a chronic special health or medical need. 1 in 68 has autism. And cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in children. More than 3 million children are hospitalized each year and many more accompany their siblings during their stay. Even the most resilient children can be overwhelmed by frightening medical procedures and hospitalizations. Fear and anxiety result , generating traumatic stress responses in the body. Research has shown that when inflammatory stress hormones flood a child’s body and brain, they alter the genes that oversee our stress reactivity, re-setting the stress response to “high” for life. This increases the risk of inflammation, which manifests later in cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases. People who have experienced childhood adversity are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer and depression as adults.

Integrative Touch for Kids (ITK) supports families whose children have any type of special health care or medical need. This includes kids with traumatic stress, cancers, genetic conditions, autism, cerebral palsy, and other serious health issues. We provide wellness education and more than 100 different integrative healing therapies such as massage, sound healing, reflexology, energy, equine, play and music therapies through our many programs. ITK works in both the hospital and community settings to change the way people view healthcare and to empower kids to be "little healers" among us. We engage communities in support of families struggling with special medical needs, improving the quality of life for all. Thanks to the incredible support of our volunteers and contributors, families receive our healing services free of charge.

Our mission is to change the way people experience health and healing through a unique Whole Child, Whole Family, Whole Community wellness model.


We treat the Whole Child in mind, body, heart and spirit. Integrative healing therapies offer empowering choices to relieve pain and stress, soothe mind and spirit, and focus on tools for self-care. 


ITK recognizes when a child has special needs a family has special needs. We treat the Whole Family by focusing on children with special needs, their siblings, parents, and other primary caregivers.


Our healing programs model a community of acceptance that recognizes everyone's unique gifts. We believe the entire community benefits from the full integration of children with special needs and their families. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Children who are differently abled

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Health Care

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

11-year-old Sean was suffering from medical trauma. From an early age, Sean needed regular medical procedures to treat his life-threatening genetic disorder. Sean felt terrified before his frequent hospital visits, resulting in procedural complications and long hospital stays. At the ITK Healing Retreat, Sean received trauma release bodywork to calm his over-stressed nervous system. He also learned how to elicit the relaxation response. The next time Sean was hospitalized, it was a new world. With comfort and gentle encouragement from his ITK therapist, he felt confident as he tried out his new relaxation skills - no more fear, less anesthesia, fewer medical complications, and shortened hospital stays. Sean and his family were ecstatic.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Integrative Touch for Kids’ family-centered integrative wellness programming impacted over 3000 individuals last year. This year, plans are underway to create replicable models of the ITK Healing Retreat and the Hospital Heroes programs. Both of these programs are pioneering new models of wellness. ITK's Research & Evaluation Committee has found that participating families show reduced pain, anxiety, and depression, strengthened coping abilities and empowerment skills. Our models are road maps to a brighter future for health care and can be efficiently and cost-effectively replicated with many service populations. These community-led, collaborative solutions help to address the health care crisis and build a culture of wellbeing. We believe these programs hold great potential to teach vulnerable children & their families how to take their health into their own hands.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Over the years, 1000's of people have invested their hearts in ITK and received a high return on that investment. Our financial sustainability plan is born of this investment. It includes the development of a self-sufficient camp model for our Healing Retreat program and a hospital funded model for our Hospital Heroes program. Both community integrative care programs can be efficiently and cost-effectively implemented nationally and globally.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

ITK is a pioneer & global leader in pediatric integrative medicine. Currently, 7 hospital based pediatric integrative medicine programs exist nationally and ITK's is unique for the following reasons: we use a highly collaborative team based approach, provide care for the entire caregiving team (incl. family members and staff), and use wellness education to promote belonging, safety and a strong sense of self. Our programs are built upon our innovative Whole Child, Whole Family, Whole Community wellness model that includes over 100 healing therapies and breaks down barriers of social isolation.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

20% of kids have special needs. More than 3 million children are hospitalized each year. Almost none have the opportunity to experience integrative medicine as a part of their care. Most are told that the strangers they encounter know best how to ‘fix’ their bodies. The health care system could be a space where children are empowered to listen and trust their inner knowingness. We see a promising shift toward community-led solutions that promote care for the whole person. Integrative approaches can pave the way for faster healing, shorter hospital stays, & sizable savings in health care costs.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Changemakers.com

Program Design Clarity

Our beneficiary community includes children with special healthcare needs and their caregivers. We provide wellness education, healing therapies, social support, and community engagement. ITK actively nurtures each individual by seeing their wholeness and promoting self efficacy. We create spaces for collective healing - daily in the hospital and monthly in the community. Our providers include healing arts practitioners, jr volunteers (between 12 &17 y.o.), kids with special needs, their parents & medical staff. Our recipients give back in a reciprocal service model that pays it forward.

Community Leadership

ITK listens deeply to the voices of our 450+ volunteers and capitalizes on the talent in our community. We have a dozen boards and committees, including a junior board that cultivates youth leadership. As an organization we highly value collaboration and work across sectors to bring together diverse perspectives. We engage in focus groups and community meetings, taking the info we gather to further our mission and refine our program design.

Age of Children Impacted

  • Pregnancy - 0
  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We are working on taking our two primary programs, Healing Retreats and Hospital Heroes and licensing them for use on a global scale. Our main strategies for creating change are to form partnerships with pediatric hospitals and to support a cultural shift that includes psycho-social-spiritual aspects of healing in healthcare. To achieve our full impact we need to connect with other pioneers and healers who empower and nurture children.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

One of the kids we work with is awaiting a liver transplant and has scars all over her body because of her underlying health condition. We serve her by teaching her that she is beautiful & perfect just exactly as she is. We hold her wholeness and ability as primary and see her illness as secondary. As a result, this child has a strong sense of self agency, a belief that she has the power to thrive, & the ability to achieve success in her future.

Leadership Story

ITK's founder started in the hospital with a Whole Child approach that treated kids in mind, body, heart & spirit. She learned from a young sibling whose brother died how critical it was for this child and her parents to receive treatment and support, so ITK added a Whole Family approach. Quickly, we saw the benefit of engaging kids without special needs in our programs to learn how to embrace differences and socialize with kids of all abilities - breaking down barriers of isolation. This created our Whole Community element. ITK has grown our programs by listening to the families we serve.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Finalist for the 2016 Influential Health and Medical Awards by Tucson Local Media Ben's Bells Kindness Award Diane Lynn Anderson Memorial Award Women Making Faces - Gallery exhibit of women making a difference in Arizona Children's Wellbeing Pioneer!!!!!!!!!!!

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Maud Schaafsma

This is a fascinating supplement to pediatric medical care - that pays attention to children's fears and unusual needs when they are afflicted by a chronic disease or need for repeated surgeries. It would be helpful to be introduced in the proposal to a broader "definition of the problem." How do children with autism, cancer, trauma, surgeries etc. have better outcomes with integrated touch? Touch must stimulate some connection to emotional empathy in a child's brain. I'd like to understand more about the mechanism of touch contributing to accelerated healing. How is this approach being integrated into pediatric medicine?

Photo of Shay Beider

Yes, this is an interesting question. Studies using functional MRIs and other technologies are beginning to unlock the ways that touch and compassion impact the child's brain. There are theories that look at vagal nerve stimulation as a possible mechanism of action for therapeutic massage. Still so much to be learned in this arena! We are finding that the power of healing trauma in medical settings is so great that doctors, nurses and others are referring to our services outside of the hospital setting - helping to expand the reach of integrative pediatric medicine in our community. Thanks for your comment.

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