Building Trust with the SUN

May 8, 2012

It’s important to spot mental or behavioral health problems early in children, identifying and intervening before they need more intense treatment or end up in the juvenile justice system. The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) believes in taking a community-based approach to reaching children at risk of mental health issues.

To test this theory, we have a multi-year initiative that has fostered pilots or demonstration grants within four communities – Derby, Manchester, Middletown, and Waterbury. Each of these pilots is based in a school and links with community and services to identify and treat children showing signs of mental health problems.

Each pilot has structured itself differently based on its unique needs. May is Mental Health Month, and so we’re featuring each of these communities every Tuesday throughout the month.

A key ingredient to making our children’s mental health communities work is trust. Without that trust between the school and the community, parents will not agree to school intervention. With that trust, however, not only will parents agree, they’ll see the school as a partner in helping their child address mental or behavioral health issues.

There’s no one clear path to trust, as our grantee in Waterbury knows well. With the city being home to a large Latino community, sometimes language and cultural differences have been barriers to a successful relationship among teachers, administrators, students and their families.

Knowing that these barriers needed to be overcome to help families receive the support services they need, CT Health’s grantee Family Services of Waterbury has put  the Sprague Unity Network or SUN in place at Sprague School. SUN has hosted family nights and featured bilingual programs and materials to cultivate a sense of community between Latino families and the school.

That sense of community has grown rapidly through positive word-of-mouth. Family nights are packed, and an increasing number of parents have agreed to have their children referred for treatment. Parents Eileen Colón, Fransuach Castillo, and Elizabeth Ruiz love SUN and discuss why in this video:

“We went out and had coffee with them.”

In this video, Patricia Deer, School Guidance Counselor, Yoellie Iglesias, SUN Program Supervisor, Donna W. Perreault, School Principal, and Yadiris Salcedo, SUN Specialist discuss how they began to create a community between families and the school.

As a community hub, SUN allows parents and kids to receive a variety of support services at Sprague School. Children are identified while at school , and then set up with a SUN specialist who creates a plan that coordinates services both inside and outside the school  to help the child.  When necessary, kids identified through  SUN can receive priority access to local mental health providers. Because SUN is part of the city-wide initiative called Bridge to Success, which focuses on the general health, well-being, and education of children, SUN has more resources and other allies to ensure that all of a student’s health needs are addressed.

SUN has had considerable success building trust with its community through a high-touch approach. What other methods are successful for building trust between groups?


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