GREENFIELD – A regional provider of comprehensive behavioral health services has been awarded nearly $800,000 to continue its work providing social and emotional support for children in licensed child care facilities.
The $772,706 Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Grant from the Healey-Driscoll administration will support the Behavioral Health Network’s Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program, a service that provides support and guidance to child care programs, educators and families to meet the needs of children with challenging behavior, mental health disorders, developmental delays, and/or those at risk of suspension or expulsion. The grant is $107,000 more than BHN received last year, according to Robert Churchill, senior director of children’s outreach programming.
“The grant can be awarded in three ways,” said Churchill. “We can work with individual children, we can work with the whole classroom, or if the need is there, we can work with the whole program.”
In total, $4.5 million was awarded statewide.
“We have a mental health crisis that is only exacerbated by the pandemic, especially among our youngest children,” said Gov. Maura Healey in a statement. “Our administration continues to help break down the stigma behind seeking treatment while ensuring Massachusetts residents know how to access the health care and support they deserve – no matter how little. These grants will provide early education and care programs with the tools and resources needed to help educators identify child(ren) who are struggling and support families in accessing help
BHN, which serves communities across four counties in western Massachusetts, is currently involved with about 35 child care programs in the region, with room to grow thanks to the grant. The organization also subcontracts to the Collaborative for Educational Services, which serves between 25 and 30 programs, according to Churchill. Matthew Matroni, director of the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program, said the organization has seen a “dramatic increase” in the number and intensity of referrals for mental health services.
“This grant will be incredible in … allowing our team and staff to respond to the needs of the community,” he said. “We really need to hire more consultants and team members to meet that need. What we’re seeing is some extreme and challenging behavior within these child care programs.
Churchill added that there is no aspect of social and emotional development that has not been influenced by the pandemic.
“Referrals have skyrocketed to all of our child care programs,” she said.
Matroni said a new role, a behavioral support specialist, was established in the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program. This person can provide more one-on-one support in the classroom.
“We really believe that will allow us to reduce our waitlists (for mental health support services) and support children more quickly,” she said.
Churchill said the pandemic is not only a stressor for families, but the education system as a whole.
“I believe that teachers are also overburdened with managing the social-emotional needs of children, and it is not common for educational models … to really give them the skills necessary to meet the are (needs),” he said. “Usually it relies on community support to get into systems to help increase understanding of how to do a particular job. This program is really intended to improve this issue.”