With an inaugural $87,000 grant from The Rhode Island Foundation to South County Health, an impressive coalition of health and social service organizations, practitioners, and advocates are designing a new way to approach lifelong emotional health: starting with children, ages 0-8.
“The Rhode Island Foundation hasn’t made a grant; it’s made an investment in the future happiness and success of thousands of Rhode Island children,” announced Louis Giancola, president and CEO of South County Health. “We are grateful for its foresight.”
“Our effort, ‘8 for 80+: Positive Emotional Health in Children’, is all about giving kids a great emotional start in life,” explains Susan A. Orban, LICSW, Director of Community Health and Wellness for South County Health. Research has shown that eight key skills are critical for emotional well-being. If infants and young children develop these skills during their earliest years, they will be much more likely to experience emotional wellness for the rest of their lives (80+ years!).”
These eight skills are:
Coping and resilience
Conflict management and resolution
Identifying and understanding feelings
Diversity awareness and respect
“Though these skills seem complicated when thinking of an infant or toddler, basic concepts can be introduced at a very young age,” Ms. Orban promises. “We can teach children how to soothe themselves and help them not only recognize when they are frustrated or angry, but what to do when they feel that way. We can encourage youngsters to ‘stick’ with solving a puzzle, instead of giving up. And, we can challenge them to solve age-appropriate problems, like finding the milk in a grocery store.”
Ms. Orban, who is also Coordinator for the Washington County Coalition for Children, will oversee ‘8 for 80’. Partners at the University of Rhode Island will develop the 8 for 80+ program content and the Brown University Continuing Medical Education Office will coordinate trainings for area professionals.
Activities will focus on parents and practitioners, through trainings and online resources
‘8 for 80+’ will focus on supporting parents of young children as well as the practitioners who work with them (e.g. childcare facilities, local health center, and community providers), noted Ellen Flannery-Schroeder, PhD, Professor and Director of Training in Clinical Psychology at the University of Rhode Island. Primary activities will fall into two categories: one, trainings, such as parenting classes and continuing education for professionals; and two, a “robust” array of educational tools and supportive resources.
“We’ll offer parent-friendly podcasts, blogs, and other online resources available to parents on-demand when they can fit them into their busy schedules,” said Dr. Flannery-Schroeder. “We are excited to provide parents with useful and easy to implement strategies which will not only increase their confidence in and enjoyment of parenting, but also result in stronger families and more resilient children.”
Strong collaboration promises success
“We have great hope for ‘8 for 80+’ because of the people and institutions involved,” Mr. Giancola noted. Besides South County Health, as noted above, our partners include the Washington County Coalition for Children, the Brown University Continuing Medical Education (CME) Office, and the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Clinical Psychology program and Psychological Consultation Center. This project is part of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, a vigorous, collaborative, long-term effort to transform community health in the region, with an initial focus on childhood obesity and children’s mental health.
Youth mental health a serious concern in South County
South County Health and other local institutions are taking a very close look at the region’s mental health, reports Mr. Giancola.
“South County has not been spared its share of mental illness and substance abuse. We have the highest suicide rate of any county in the state at 10.1 per 100,000, the highest rate of binge drinking at 21.6%. In 2014, there were 110 opiate overdose visits to two local emergency departments in the region and last year (2015) there were 15 deaths due to accidental opiate overdoses. More than 2,000 patients treated at our hospital had a mental health disorder last year.”
He continues, “Young people of South County are clearly vulnerable.” According to the last student survey approximately 10% of high school students reported thoughts of suicide and more than 20% exhibited signs of depression. Self-reported alcohol and marijuana use by high school students ranges between 13 and 38% among our towns. “These numbers must decrease; I’m confident that ‘8 for 80+’ is a key part of the solution.”
Health Program Officer Larry Warner of The Rhode Island Foundation agreed.
“Positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their communities.
“Ensuring everyone has access to the care they need in order to live healthy lives is one of our priorities. By encouraging delivery in new, innovative ways, we hope to make a significant difference in the lives of children,” he concludes.