YES! In Rock County, a collaboration of groups supporting mental health awareness for youth, will hold its sixth annual Supporting Children and Youth Who Struggle summit Jan. 24 at Parker High School in Janesville.
The summit is a chance for parents, students, teachers, mental health providers and members of the community to work together on topics concerning the mental health of children and youth in our region.
The event will feature keynote speaker Dr. William Steele, founder of the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. The program also features workshops on early intervention, resources and additional speakers.
"It’s community wide and it’s over the course of one day," said executive director of Rock and Walworth County Head Start Connie Robers. "The goals are to build awareness around the mental health issues our children are facing, to develop strategies to address needs and to share information."
According to Robers, YES! In Rock County relies on members such as Head Start, Rock County Health and Human Services, the Beloit and Janesville school districts and others to host the summit.
"When you say mental health there is sort of a stigma, what does it mean? Does it mean mental illness?" Robers said. "No, we aren’t talking about mental illness, we are talking about health. Just like we want our children to be physically healthy, it’s also important to make sure that they are mentally healthy. Our belief is that parents are not only the primary educators of their children, but also their primary mental health providers, too. So helping parents develop a sound approach and foundational strategies is very important."
A boost in funding
A recent $2 million grant awarded to the School District of Beloit from the Safe Schools-Healthy Students initiative may help fund existing projects like this one, or help usher in new services to the district.
Last year, Wisconsin was awarded the $8.7 million Safe Schools-Healthy Students federal grant to distribute among its districts, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction chose the School District of Beloit as one of three districts to receive a portion.
"We were working with three local districts in the state, and we wanted to have some diversity in those three districts," said DPI Educational Consultant and grant co-coordinator, Beth Herman. "We wanted a smaller rural district, a medium sized city-suburb and then a larger city. We chose Racine for the larger city, Menominee Indian was the smaller district and Beloit fit for the mid-sized city with a lot of diversity in its student population."
The program brings together educational, behavioral health and criminal and juvenile justice systems to introduce new or improve upon existing services. The DPI will work with the School District of Beloit and the state departments of Health Services and Justice to integrate systems that promote students’ mental health, enhance their academic achievement, prevent violence and substance abuse, and create safe and respectful school climates.
Across the state, projects funded by the four-year grant will serve about 28,000 students annually. Wisconsin is one of only seven states to receive a Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant.
Where is it going?
Among the issues that the School District of Beloit hopes to address are enhancing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports programs, anti-bullying, early childhood social and emotional development programs, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and additional help for students coping with after effects of early childhood trauma. Specifics have to be discussed and data analyzed before the exact allocation is determined.
"This year is a planning year, meetings run from now until August," said Executive Director of Pupil Services at the School District of Beloit Barbara Buffington. "We have to analyze data, find our deficits and create an action plan. Implementing our action plan would take place in year two, and depending on what our data says, it will indicate where specific needs are."
According to a DPI press release, in subsequent years of the project, evidence-based programs and practices will be implemented and evaluated. For example, if students have experienced early childhood trauma that impacts behavior and interferes with learning, schools might implement trauma-informed care. This type of program helps students cope with the effects of early trauma.
"Each district will form their own comprehensive plan based on their needs assessment," Herman said. "It’s a coordinated grant and what makes it really interesting is that the school district, mental health agencies and juvenile justice agencies all work together so that students and families have access to better mental health services."
Although a thorough examination will take place between now and August, Buffington thinks a significant portion of funds will probably be going toward early childhood education.
"I definitely believe there will be an increase of service in our early childhood education area," said Buffington. "I think that early intervention is key here. If I could speculate, I think our data will show that services are needed most with our young students, because if we intervene early the need for mental health services as these students grow up will be reduced."
Services such as Rock and Walworth County Head Start are on the front lines of early education intervention, along with support services for the family.
The added resources would give them opportunities to have a larger outreach effort and provide better service.
Head Start begins early as it can with its intervention, often as young as birth through 3 with some of its Early Head Start classrooms, which offer parents the opportunity to work alongside professionals to understand and foster their child’s early social skills and emotional development.
Although it’s too early to know exactly how the grant will be spent, Robers says that she’d like to see more outreach programs like the Supporting Children and Youth Who Struggle summit sponsored and strengthened. No matter the outcome, she thinks that the grant is coming at a good time and that the results will have a lasting impact on the community.
"I think the School District of Beloit is working really hard with families and with the community to take on these issues. I’m really glad they have this grant, it’s a huge community boost and it extends the reach of programs," said Robers. "It would be wonderful if we could break down the stigma around youth mental health. I don’t know that there’s a lot of mental health providers for really young children in our community."