New Haven received federal grant for pilot mental health program

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NEW HAVEN--Identifying the mental health needs of children has been a priority since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting nearly two years ago. Now New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood is getting federal assistance for a pilot program to let certain families know what help is available right around the corner.

Other cities in Connecticut will have an eye on this five-year grant, which, if successful, could be administered elsewhere in state and across the country.

The simplest way to describe Project Launch? Getting people, who are a regular presence in a child’s life to more keenly tune in to their mental health needs.

“This is really a family driven project,” said Alice Forrester, executive director of the Clifford Beers Clinic, which is a counseling center that focuses on families. “The families will have a large voice in what they say they need.”

Much the $4 million grant is earmarked for hiring care coordinators, who will be strategically placed where parents and kids often congregate. But, Forrester says, that’s not the solution. “The solution is really finding ways to be able to be quick resources, in good relationship with each other and pulling the community together."

Inside the Troup School, which is pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, they are already doing much of what the grant’s aim is: guiding parents, whose kids are trending in the wrong direction, to resources. The school features an in-school health center.

Dr. Michael Conner, the school's principal, says parents often ask what agencies and programs are available for their children. He also said that all organizations involved are still sorting through how this intervention and support will best be employed collaboratively. “There’s going to be ongoing dialogue,” said Conner. “I would envision it might be weekly initially. And then, carry on to monthly afterwards.”

The Montessori School, across from Troup, educates children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. They will be part of the collaborative because behavioral issues are quite prominent for them.

“That aggressive behavior itself, it disrupts the classroom and we need help to assist these children be successful in the classroom,” said Cecile Malm, dducation coordinator.

In addition to schools, a key entry point into a family’s life is a grocery store. So Stop & Shop on Whalley Avenue has agreed to be part of this partnership.   “It worked out to be a natural fit as a central location, to meet and engage mothers and families,” said Kia Levy, of the MOMS Partnership. “And, it’s a place that doesn't have any stigma about why you’re going to the grocery store.”

A mental health professional will be stationed near the store’s entrance customer service counter five days a week.  “We will ask them is there anything that we can do for them. Do they have any needs? We will be holding classes and workshops and group sessions upstairs, in a conference room they've given us,” Levy said.

One of the mental health professionals will be placed in the Yale Pediatrics Clinic at the Hospital of St. Raphael.

“We want to be able to deliver mental health services where the children and families are, in the clinics,” said Forrester, who added the goal is to deliver as many services within walking distance of this neighborhoods' homes. The theory is that the fewer obstacles, such as a need for transportation, the better the likelihood of a positive outcome.

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