News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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Frey Foundation awards major grant to Health Department
Early childhood mental health initiative aims to increase access to services and offer support to families

(April 20, 2011) The Health Department of Northwest Michigan has been awarded a five-year, $160,000 grant from the Frey Foundation to launch an early childhood behavioral health initiative in Charlevoix and Emmet counties. The funding follows an in depth assessment of needs and gaps in services conducted by an independent consulting firm that considered input from agencies that serve young children as well as parents of children with mental health issues.

"We are very grateful to the Frey Foundation for supporting this important project," said Linda Yaroch, Deputy Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "Identifying behavioral health issues early on, when they are easier to treat, prevents more serious problems as children grow up. Similar initiatives have long-term results like reduced high school drop out rates and reduced contact with law enforcement."

The Frey Foundation grant is seed money to start the early childhood behavioral health initiative; other grants and donations will be requested through community foundations and other major foundations with guidance from the initiative's "Investors Group". The United Way of Charlevoix and Emmet Counties has already provided a $1,000 grant.

The initiative aims to increase access to behavioral health services in the two counties.

"We envision a robust system of care that starts with common assessment tools and includes easily accessible treatment for children with mild, moderate, and severe behavioral health issues--no matter what their families' health insurance status," said Yaroch. "We're working with our community partners to fill the gaps in the current system."

Representatives from Charlevoix Area Hospital, Char-Em Intermediate School District, Community Health Center of Northern Michigan, East Jordan Family Health Center, Women's Resource Center of Northern Michigan, and North Country Community Mental Health (CMH) Services all serve on the Initiative's "Service Providers" work group.

"We look forward to working together with the Health Department to bring additional early identification, prevention, and support and treatment services to the community," said Alexis Kaczynski, Executive Director of North Country CMH Services.

Yaroch said the other major goal of the initiative is to support families whose children are experiencing behavioral issues, developmental delays, or mental illness. A group of parents whose children have behavioral health needs, met several times during the needs assessment to provide the family perspective. They identified the need for more peer support, easy, non-stigmatizing access to information, and "navigators" to help families meet the needs of their children. Parent Navigators are peers who have personal experience with their children's mental health issues, making them uniquely able to assist families with similar problems.

Natalie Kasiborski has been hired to coordinate the Initiative. Kasiborski earned a Master of Social Work degree from University of Michigan and is currently completing a doctorate in social work and master's degree in public health from MSU. "We're delighted to have Natalie on board," said Yaroch.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information about the early childhood mental health initiative, contact Kasiborski at 231-347-5144.