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Winter 2012

Dedicated to Kids

In James P. Connaughton, traumatized children found a man they could trust.

Date: February 1, 2012

Dedicated to Kids: Connaughton

A native of Dublin, pediatric psychiatrist James P. Connaughton was known to possess an ample supply of Gaelic passion, as well as an engaging brogue and feisty personality—but his fighting spirit was dedicated solely to improving the lives of children, particularly those with emotional or mental problems.

Founder and first director of the Johns Hopkins Children and Adolescent Mental Health Center, a community psychiatric clinic that has helped generations of Baltimore’s children and youth deal with psychological trauma and behavioral problems, Connaughton died on Sept. 11 of pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

During his 31 years at Hopkins, Connaughton also mentored generations of fledgling psychiatrists, teaching them the science—and art—of interviewing children with mental health problems.
“You can’t fool a child, and those kids whose lives were one huge trauma knew they could trust him, and they loved him,” says Catherine DeAngelis, professor of pediatrics, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and one-time vice dean for academic affairs and faculty, who was a pediatric resident under Connaughton and later worked with him.

“He could befriend a child in five minutes and talk to them on their level to get the most important information,” says Marco Grados (HS, child psychiatry, 1994-1996), now clinical director of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry in Hopkins’ Children’s Center. “I learned a lot from him about interviewing children, and so did many others.”

In 1958, two years after obtaining his medical degree from University College Dublin, Connaughton came to Baltimore as a psychiatric resident at Seton Psychiatric Institute. An assistant professor of psychiatry at Marquette University in Milwaukee from 1961 to 1965, he returned to Baltimore as a fellow in child psychiatry and pediatrics at Hopkins and remained here for the rest of his career. He founded the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Center in 1981 and headed it until 1993. He retired in 1997.

Connaughton was a modest man “who wasn’t boastful and didn’t do research,” DeAngelis noted. “He took care of kids with problems—that’s what he did—and he did it like no one else I’d ever known.”

Although he was elected a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom, among the accolades Connaughton cherished the most were his multiple Teacher of the Year awards, bestowed by Hopkins’ medical residents on their finest mentors.   NAG