Being the parent of a child with mental health concerns can be an incredibly confusing and overwhelming experience. Many parents lack the information they need to accurately identify potential mental health issues, and tap into services that might be available. Approximately 200,000 children under the age of 18 live in Hartford County; roughly one in five has a diagnosable mental health condition. Unfortunately only about 25 percent of these 40,000 children access available treatment.
More families, as well as community health workers and Hartford Public School educators will now have access to information on how to better identify mental health issues in children and how to access available services thanks to a three-year, $149,500 Hartford Foundation grant to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut (NAMI Connecticut) to support implementing the Children’s Mental Health Disparity Initiative in Hartford. By helping parents, educators, and nonprofit staff to better recognize mental health issues and identify the services available both in and out of school, they can work together to assist children and advocate on their behalf.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Hartford Foundation which will enable us to work with Hartford Public Schools on early identification and intervention of children at risk for childhood mental health conditions,” said Kate Mattias, executive director of NAMI Connecticut. “The schools and other agencies are excited to be able to share with parents the resources of our education program, NAMI Basics.”
Children with mental health conditions have the highest school dropout rate of any disability group, are at higher risk of being managed through restraints and seclusion, and fare worse on standardized tests than other students. NAMI has been meeting with Hartford Public Schools to explore providing its programming and family support as in-service development to staff.
“Informacion es poder…Information is power: By providing information and resources to our parents and teachers on identifying mental health issues in our children we are not only alleviating existing problems that interfere with learning but we can prevent them from happening. We look forward to our partnership with NAMI Connecticut and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving,” said Nelson E. Rivera, Ph.D., lead psychologist for Hartford Public Schools. Dr. Rivera is both a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist in charge of psychological services at Hartford Public Schools.
NAMI’s Children’s Mental Health Disparity Initiative will bring two child-focused NAMI education programs to Hartford:
1. A bilingual children’s mental health education program, NAMI Basics, which will be taught by bilingual community mental health workers. The course focuses on childhood mental health and early identification and intervention and includes the impact of trauma.
2. The Parents and Teachers as Allies (P&TA) program for educators and other professionals in the Hartford Public Schools (HPS) also supports discussion of childhood mental health conditions and early identification and intervention.
Programs will build on each other to ensure that families who have children with mental health concerns and educators develop an understanding of the issues and treatment options, and can access supports available in schools and the community. The target population will be African-American and Latino caregivers in Hartford with children impacted by mental health conditions.
“The training programs will reach critical audiences that need support in expanding their understanding of mental health issues and in addressing them, said Judy McBride, senior program officer at the Hartford Foundation. “ It is especially important to provide this support in Hartford’s communities of color, where historically there has been a disparity in access to services.”
The six-week NAMI bilingual basic education course implements a national, culturally competent curriculum, taught by trained bilingual community mental health workers. The course has been used successfully in Connecticut for many years. In the first year, outreach will be conducted to community and faith-based groups in Hartford to gather their experience in addressing mental health issues and their work with parents and caregivers. NAMI Basic trainings will be provided in Hartford sites to support raising awareness of mental health disparities and strategies to reduce them in communities.
The P&TA program, which NAMI has been implementing for four years, presents and engages participants with a panel of parents/caregivers, a teacher who is a parent of a child with mental illness, and a person living with a mental illness whose symptoms began in school. This program offers participants real-world experiences from their peers and parents and care givers on the challenges faced by families with a child dealing with a mental illness and how best to assist them.
“We are grateful to be working with such dedicated and generous partners as NAMI and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving,” says superintendent of Hartford Public Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Ed.D. “This work is so crucial, the experience and knowledge of NAMI with the support of the Foundation will be of great benefit to our children, families and educators.”