New program expands mental health access for kids in Riverside County
■ Riverside University Health System / Contributed
Riverside County children through age 5 will receive expanded access to early intervention and mental health services through a new program that aims to position them for emotional, social and academic success in school and life, mental health advocates announced this week.
One out of seven children between the ages of 2 and 8 have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The first five years are a period of incredible growth and development in a child’s life—the brain and emotional health are developing,” said Anna Loza, a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor with Riverside University Health System—Behavioral Health. “We want to make it easier for families and children to participate in a range of prevention, early intervention, and mental health programs.”
RUHS—Behavioral Health SET-4-School program will spearhead a new, three-year project with a $7.5 million grant from First 5 Riverside. First 5 Riverside is funded by tobacco taxes generated though Proposition 10, a statewide voter approved act created to support and improve the early development of children from the prenatal stage to 5 years of age.
The program provides behavioral health screening for children and connects them with follow-up services including parent education, classroom support for teachers, child social skills groups, and mental health treatment.
“This is an important piece of a child wellness model. Our hope is that it becomes a model in all our communities,” said Loza.
Nonprofit organizations Catholic Charities, Family Service Association and Victor Community Support Services will work with RUHS-Behavioral Health to deploy additional support and intervention programs. RUHS-Public Health also will provide support. The project will offer specialized training for mentors and professionals who work with young children in school, community-based, and behavioral health settings, Loza said.
Mother of six, Lorie Lacey-Payne, knows firsthand the challenges of recognizing the signs of mental health disorders in very young children and accessing the resources to address them. Decades ago, Lacey-Payne’s third child, a toddler, began showing signs of serious mental illness.
“At that time it was very frustrating. We did not know where to turn for help. Child mental health and support for families was not at the forefront of our thinking back then,” said Lacey-Payne, who now works as a parent partner and manager of the RUHS Parent Support and Training Program, where she offers personal support and helps families navigate the mental health system.
Child psychiatrist, Dr. Matthew Chang, director of RUHS-Behavioral Health, said recognizing and managing behavioral, emotional and mental health issues early can change the trajectory of a child’s life from misunderstanding and struggle to success and achievement.
“We all benefit by coming together as a community to make sure our youngest members are receiving the emotional and mental wellness support and tools they need to succeed as children into adulthood,” Chang said.