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SUNY Poly to use grant funding for K-12 mental-health services in Herkimer County

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MARCY, N.Y. — Herkimer County announced it has awarded two instructors at SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) a grant of $750,000 to support school-based, mental-health services.

The county allocated the funding to Joanne Joseph, SUNY Poly interim dean of the College of Health Sciences and Veronica Tichenor, professor of sociology at SUNY Poly.

The funding is part of a grant for the Herkimer County System of Care Expansion and Sustainability Project through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Rockville, Maryland–based SAMSHA is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Joanne Joseph
Joanne Joseph (Photo credit: SUNY Polytechnic Institute)

The effort stems from a larger grant awarded to Herkimer County, which aims to improve school-based, mental-health services, proactively identify areas of concern, and provide trauma-informed care for children who are involved in the child welfare and juvenile-justice systems.

The grant will enable the evaluation of the overall project by providing quantitative and qualitative data analysis and support the use and study of family school navigators, which are described as liaisons between families and schools.

Family school navigators

Family school navigators identify families with young children and “forge a positive, strength-based connection” with them and their school that persists through the child’s elementary career, typically providing support for “basic and complex” needs. They include access to mental and physical health services; access to social services; and early intervention for all children in the family, including those not yet in school.

Veronica Tichenor (Photo credit: SUNY Polytechnic Institute)

The grant will be used to hire family school navigators in five school districts in Herkimer County, with the goals of “proactively” identifying children with serious emotional disturbance (SED) or those children who are at-risk of SED. The family school navigators are a way to identify these youth and support the family using a “wrap-around approach” and make referrals to community-based services.

The effort also seeks to improve mental and behavioral health of children attending school by collaborating with five school districts in the use of the Devereaux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) software system to identify a cohort of students with SED risks and provide referrals for treatment and supports.

This group will be followed over time and analyzed for specific behavioral improvements; improving the emotional and psychological strength of families; and “over the long-term,” reducing the number of youth with untreated SED as well as youth involved in the juvenile-justice system.

“The use of family school navigators in local schools has been piloted under United Way’s R4K (Ready for Kindergarten) initiative, and the early data from these efforts show that embedding family navigators in schools is a very effective way to reach out to families to help meet their needs and keep them engaged with the schools,” Tichenor said.

Besides her role as a sociology professor, Tichenor also serves as SUNY Poly’s coordinator of the community and behavioral health program, the school said.

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