A Story of a Mother’s Determination

By Shelby Foit, Mental Health Navigator

As a Mental Health Navigator, I interact with children and families in Southwest Florida every day. The program connects families with services to help children experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges. We also provide wrap-around services that put families in touch with community resources that can help them with housing, financial assistance, and other obstacles. This support helps strengthen families so they can successfully support their children, resulting in positive outcomes for all.

Each family I work with has a story that touches my heart, but some leave a more profound mark. This is one of those stories.

M, a five-year-old, and his mother were struggling. At daycare, M was disrupting class, and his mother was often called out of work due to M’s behavior. As a full-time registered dietician, M’s mom was grappling with balancing her busy work schedule with patients and finding the resources and support to help M, believing he may be on the autism spectrum. She and M were soon referred to the Mental Health Navigator program through the Golisano Child Development Center.

The first step was enrolling M’s mother in the Exceptional Parenting Classes with Child Advocacy Educators. However, M’s behavior at daycare was increasing negatively. While the staff was compassionate and working with M’s mom, they were concerned that they could not give M the care and attention he needed.

We then began working with M’s family to get him the necessary medical appointments for screening and testing. Together, we also completed the paperwork required by the Early Learning Coalition so M could be enrolled in the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program.

With the help of the Mental Health Navigator program, M’s mom was able to get M a Language & Developmental Evaluation, where M was diagnosed with a speech delay of about a year and a half. Following the necessary doctors’ appointments, an Eligibility & Individual Plan (IEP) meeting was held with M’s school district, and he was approved for supportive services for his speech delay. And this January, M has an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) test.

M is now attending Rayma C. Page Elementary for VPK and is receiving all the supportive accommodations and services he needs. Mom has been able to return to work full-time and is maintaining a consistent schedule.

There are many families like M’s in Southwest Florida, and they need an advocate, helping hand, partner, and guide to navigate and work alongside them so they can find the support they need for their child and family. And because of generous donors, the Mental Health Navigator program can empower families to overcome barriers so they can begin their next chapter filled with hope, support, and independence.