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Ali Siemianowski

Communication Specialist, National Council for Behavioral Health

A HUG for Kids in Need: NAMI of Collier County

July 2, 2015 | Uncategorized | Comments
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Florida’s public mental health funding is among the lowest in the U.S., with a system demand for treatment that is often far greater than available resources. NAMI of Collier County sought to change the barriers and lack of resources that many parents face accessing much-needed services for their children.

Anyone reading this knows that early intervention is critical to preventing future serious problems for kids, like problems at school, substance use, criminal behavior, violence and self-harm. In a recent webinar, Donna Charbonneu and Kathryn Hunter, both with NAMI of Collier County, talked about how their innovative HUGS (Health Under Guided Systems) program changes children’s lives in the southwestern part of Florida through community-based, collaborative care.

HUGS is free and addresses the prevention and early intervention of social, emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges of children aged 3 months to 18 years.  Originally funded by the Naples Children Education Foundation, community organizations united eight years ago to address issues the community’s parents faced—namely lack of culturally competent services and resources. Of the 20 percent of local children who may have a diagnosable mental illness, only 20 percent receive services. Before HUGS came on the scene, that was about 11,200 kids not receiving needed interventions.

Through a system of care that looks at the whole child, HUGS incorporates universal screening, system navigation and follow-up, and prevention and education through programs like Ending the Silence and Youth Mental Health First Aid. When parents look into HUGS, they receive information on system navigators, or case managers and clinical assessors. With these choices, families feel empowered and connected. A family support liaison also connects them to other services that may be needed—like housing for the entire family.

HUGS reduces fragmentation, eliminates the duplication of services and maximizes community through a true system of care. Local health care organizations, parenting organizations, afterschool and summer programs and private occupational therapy and speech therapy groups refer children. They can be screened at places like local federally qualified health centers through the head start programs and in the community through the HUGS mobile RV. Today, more than 1,500 children get screened each year. Of the 24 percent of kids that need follow-up, nearly all (98%) families move forward to get a clinical assessment.

This year, Connect 4 Mental Health (a national initiative led by the National Council, NAMI, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck) recognized HUGS for its efforts and commitment in early intervention.


Apply Today for the C4MH 2016 Awards

Again this year, C4MH will issue four awards to U.S.-based community behavioral health programs exhibiting innovative work in the four C4MH pillars — early intervention, creative use of technology, continuity of care and service integration. Does your program fit the bill?

Each winner receives a $10,000 award to support program efforts in their communities, as well as access to a one-on-one Mentorship Program. In this next phase, NAMI Collier County will mentor another community looking to accomplish similar successes.

Entries are due by July 17 and winners will be notified by October of 2015. Be the next model for change and apply today.

Learn more about Connect 4 Mental Health, NAMI of Collier County and the 2014 Community Innovation Award Winners here.