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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month set

May 02, 2018

OTTUMWA - - Southeast Iowa community leaders are focused on children’s mental health during National Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Agencies and individuals across sectors are encouraging others to know the warning signs of children’s mental health issues and support community efforts to improve mental health development for all children.

Cheryl Jones, a pediatric nurse practitioner and health services coordinator at Child Health Specialty Clinics in Ottumwa, has been involved in the work of children’s mental health for more than 40 years.

“As family stress increases, the impact on children can often be overlooked. Supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing takes individuals and organizations coming together to tackle the issue from a statewide, community, and individual level,” Jones said.

Jones notes the signs of mental health issues in children and teens can be misunderstood. Research published by the National Institute of Mental Health states there is up to a 10-year delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention. Warning signs include severe mood swings, prolonged crying, excessive fatigue, drug or alcohol use, or extreme worry, among others.

The National Institute of Mental Health also cites anxiety disorder affecting 8 percent of youth, while 20 percent of teens age 13-18 have a mental health disorder. NIMH cites 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.

Suicide is the number one cause of death for children in Iowa, the second-leading cause of death in Iowa females age 15-24, and first cause of death among males age 15-24 according to (cite source).

The Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Collaborative of Wapello, Jefferson, and Van Buren counties aim to reverse these numbers in southeast Iowa. The group formed last October when the community was awarded a demonstration grant through the Department of Human Services. More than a dozen agencies are involved in the leadership team.

“As a provider of crisis intervention services, Southern Iowa Mental Health Center is among leading organizations in southeast Iowa taking on the national issue of children’s mental health,” said Christina Schark, Executive Director.

“It is our pleasure to partner with Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the many other agencies working together in this project promoting Children’s Mental during National Mental Health Awareness Month,” Schark said.

Members of the workgroup are tackling the tough topics facing many Iowa communities where resources are limited and need is great.

“There is a parallel in our work with families and our collective work together as partner agencies,” said Pat McReynolds, a chairperson of Wapello County’s Children’s Alliance.

“When we emphasize relationships in families - it creates better parents, and resilient families. The same thing happens when we as agencies emphasize relationships – it strengthens each of us, and strengthens our community,” McReynolds said.

Becky Falck, Director of SIEDA Community Action Family Support Services, said the three-county collaborative is advancing community awareness of the link between mental illness and childhood trauma.

“The collaboration has been important for us to continue conversations on how best to help families recognize the connection between adverse childhood experiences and mental health, and connecting them to the social supports and other valuable resources essential to overcoming toxic stress and improving wellbeing,” said Falck.

Priorities of the Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Collaborative

The group’s priorities have included identifying ways to integrate services between agencies and strengthen community awareness.

“We believe through combined efforts we will improve outcomes for kids,” said Jones. “The group has already benefited from the collaborative.”

Gloria Brown, Director of Jefferson and Van Buren counties at Nurturing Families, a Community Partnership for Protecting Children agency, said, “avoiding duplication of services for better use of funding and resources has been a focus of our work.”

The demonstration project’s long-term goals address issues facing schools and juvenile court systems including reducing the number of students with behavior issues related to mental health that are referred to juvenile justice.

“Great Prairie AEA is pleased to be a partner in this collaborative to support districts in their awareness of student mental health needs and available resources both from the AEA system and from community partners,” said Angelisa Fynaardt, Associate Administrator and Director of Special Education.

“Teachers and school staff in all three counties are some of the more than 1,000 individuals and educators in Iowa who’ve been trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid in the past year,” Fynaardt said.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based training platform that equips professionals working with children to recognize behaviors and other indicators of mental illness among youth, and refer youth and families to local support services. Last year, 5,777 students were referred to mental health or related supports in Iowa as a result of the training (training is provided through the Iowa Department of Education in partnership with community agencies including the Area Education Agency [AEA] network).

Initial work of the collaborative has also included training in trauma-informed practices. Nearly 100 teachers, school counselors, school board members and staff of the Ottumwa Community School District received training in the Connections Matter® curriculum led by Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. The evidence-based trauma-informed training curriculum details research on the impact of child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and other household dysfunctions on the developing brain, behavior, and school success.

“Positive school culture and climate where every student feels connected and supported are priorities for our district,” said Fynaardt. “Through this community collaborative we’ve learned more about the resources and services available to our students and families, and are better able to serve the needs of our diverse student body.”

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Activities in May

The group is launching a public awareness campaign in May, encouraging people to: become familiar with the warning signs of mental illness among teens and youth, talk with their pediatrician, seek mental health services, and build social supports.

The group also encourages young people concerned about their mental health to tell someone, and ask for help in finding mental health services.

To help build community awareness of the connections between childhood trauma and mental wellbeing, the group is hosting three community screenings of the documentary film Resilience, the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope. The one-hour film showings are free to the public and will include a short discussion immediately following. Films will be shown at Ottumwa Public Library on May 15th at 5:00 p.m.; Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on May 22nd at 5:00 p.m.; and Van Buren County Hospital on May 23rd at 5:00 p.m. RSVP to secure your spot by calling Prevent Child Abuse Iowa at 515-244-2200 or emailing whatsyourconnection@gmail.com.

Those interested in learning more about the collaborative, or interested in joining the group may contact Prevent Child Abuse Iowa.

“The Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Collaborative is working to grow children’s mental health services,” said Liz Cox, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. “When a child is provided the opportunity to develop into his or her full potential, an entire community prospers as they grow to become a contributing member of our community.”

About Van Buren County SAFE Coalition

The Van Buren County SAFE Coalition supports prevention efforts in Van Buren County Iowa. It seeks to stimulate community involvement to promote responsible behaviors among youth and adults; leading to a SAFE (Substance Abuse Free Environment) and healthy community.

About Prevent Child Abuse Iowa

Since 1975, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa has served its mission to end child abuse in the entire state of Iowa. It is the only statewide organization dedicated to preventing child abuse through advocacy, research and communications. Prevent Child Abuse Iowa manages state and federal grant programs, which contribute financial support to community groups that provide services to families. Prevent Child Abuse Iowa is based in Des Moines, but has partnerships in nearly every county throughout Iowa. For more information, please visit www.pcaiowa.org.


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