The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Union County (MHRBUC) was recently awarded $4 million to increase access to mental health care for children and expand available care.
The grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), will provide nearly $1 million each year for four years – the largest grant awarded to communities for children’s mental health.
Dr. Phil Atkins, executive director of MHRBUC, said grant money will be used to develop partnerships, coordinate services, improve prevention and wellness initiatives and provide support for parents.
Atkins submitted the grant proposal in an effort to connect every child in Union County with the care they need.
He said he first applied for the grant in 2007 and has had improvements that could be made through the funding on his radar since then.
Union County already has a solid repertoire of mental health services for children, Atkins said, but many caregivers and parents are unaware of it.
“We have a lot of services for kids here, but if people don’t know how to access them… they’re useless,” he said.
A large part of the grant will help to clear confusion for parents and caregivers by providing one path to the help their children may need.
Instead of sifting through pamphlets and calling multiple numbers, Atkins said all caregivers will be directed to a “central intake” service.
Any caregiver in Union County will be able to go online or call a designated phone number to express what their child is struggling with to MHRBUC professionals.
From there, Atkins explained, they will be paired with a care coordinator who will “walk through it with them” by suggesting appropriate next steps.
“Parents want to do the right thing for their children, they just don’t always know what’s available to them,” Atkins said.
The grant will make a variety of resources available, as Atkins said it will “create a continuum of care” depending on what level of services would benefit a child.
“Not everyone needs extensive care, but all families need some help with their child’s emotional wellbeing,” he said.
After caregivers contact MHRBUC, the assistance provided could range from simply getting more information to intensive, long-term services.
Funding will also be used to centralize messaging throughout the county and make sure there isn’t a duplication of effort, Atkins said.
The grant will create a partnership called “The Mosaic Project,” that teams MHRBUC with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Medicaid managed care organizations, private insurers, local children’s mental health providers and the Union County Council for Families.
Atkins also said MHRBUC is partnering with Fairbanks, Marysville and North Union High Schools to ensure “a coordinated effort across the county.”
In another effort to increase access, Atkins said the grant will be used to close existing gaps by helping families financially.
Although many Union County families have health insurance, Atkins said it typically only covers a mental health assessment and counseling services.
However, he said the grant will help to assist families whose children could benefit from additional services.
“(The grant) is going to take all those elements and put them together to provide the right services at the right time for the right kid,” Atkins said.
While the grant focuses on children’s mental health, Atkins said he wants parents to feel supported, too, even if their child is the top priority.
“It’s easy to wonder, ‘Am I bad parent? Everybody else’s life looks so good on Facebook, but my child is struggling,’” Atkins said.
Through grant funding, he said “parent physicians,” or mental health professionals with children who have struggled with mental wellness, will be available for parents to consult and share experiences with.
He emphasized that choosing to seek help doesn’t mean a parent isn’t meeting the standard.
Instead, he said putting insecurities aside in order to help children is a sign of strength – something he sees throughout Union County.
“We are very protective of our children here and I think that’s amazing,” Atkins said.
Federal funding will begin on Oct. 1, 2019 and extend through Sept. 2023.
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