Discovering undiagnosed issues, changing medications and schedules – How the Mental Health Navigator program helps children

By Joseph Craig, Mental Health Navigator

First-grader “JL” was referred to Kids’ Minds Matter’s Mental Health Navigator (MHN) program after having difficulty with new situations, sitting still in class and engaging in self injurious behavior. He was frustrated with his inability to communicate and follow classroom instruction and refused to get on the bus, resulting last year in having more than 30 unexcused late arrivals. At one point, he wanted to leave school so badly that he ran into a gate.

The MHN program began to work with the family in March 2020, bringing together people working to help JL, including his psychiatrist. The team determined JL was not sleeping well, was hyperactive in the morning and did not want to get on the bus.

As a result of the MHN getting a sleep study for JL, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. A psychiatrist re-tested him for autism and determined he was on the spectrum.

With advocacy from the MHN, new medication was ordered before bedtime that has helped him sleep better. His medication was changed in the morning to address his restlessness. His bus schedule was changed so he could go to school with his brother. The MHN acquired an Applied Behavioral Analyst to stay with him each day until 12 p.m. The MHN negotiated with the school to give him medication at lunch that helps his stability.

JL no longer has excessive lateness, his grades have improved to passing, and he can now sit for extended periods in class. The MHN has ensured him that he can talk with the school’s Guidance Counselor when things are bothering him.

“Since the beginning of when you started helping us, we have seen a great improvement and we really appreciate all that you have done for us.” said JL’s father.

Mental Health Navigator Program

Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Kids’ Minds Matter was started to raise awareness and funding to improve access to pediatric mental and behavioral health services in Southwest Florida.

Part of the initiative was a pilot program to hire four in-school in Lee and Collier County school systems to provide peer mentoring and support for families whose children’s face mental health challenges. Funded fully by philanthropy, each navigator has had his/her own experience with mental health issues with a family member or child and may have already gone through bureaucratic obstacles. They help families deal with challenges they might experience getting appropriate resources to help their children.

The program has helped families with:

  • Psychiatric and therapy appointments for children and parents, as well as diagnostic testing
  • Accompanying parents/child to appointments as needed
  • Enrolling for SNAP (food); TANF (temporary cash assistance); and SSI (income for the disabled)
  • Payment of monthly cell phone bills for a limited time (a safety measure from isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic)
  • Donation of beds for children sleeping on makeshift floor beds
  • Enrolling children in a summer camp which also served as respite for their parents
  • Assisting a mother with car repairs for transportation to work. (She contributed part of her Covid-19 stimulus money to the repairs)
  • Assisting parents to electronically enroll their children for the new school year
  • Using wrap-around funds for basic needs such as food, toiletries and clothes.

Learn More

Joseph Craig

In September 2020, my colleagues and I were part of Kids’ Minds Matter’s Mental Health Mondays Facebook live series. To learn more about our program, we invite you to watch our segment and view some key takeaways here.