Helping parents to be able to help their children

By: Jeannine Sparkes, Mental Health Navigator

The Mental Health Navigator (MHN) program is designed to help families connect with services and resources to improve the educational outcomes of their children. But the program also helps parents, so they are also able to help their children.

When her family was referred to the MHN program in March, “VB” was already overwhelmed with four children ages 5 to 13 years old, all of them acting out. The oldest was chewing her fingers until they bled. The next youngest was arguing with her mother, being verbally and physically aggressive. The second to youngest was failing academically, missing 20% of school the previous year. She was not allowed to ride the bus or to have sharp objects like scissors. The youngest was throwing tantrums.

As a result, VB was not sleeping and engaging in self-harm to cope with her stress and anxiety. The family was food insecure because she had spent her last dollars on cleaning supplies and paper goods to prepare for the pandemic. Her car was not running dependably. VB doesn’t read well, so she has difficulty filling out applications, forms and paperwork for programs that could help her.

Our initial efforts went toward family stabilization: lessening mom’s stress and getting her help to meet urgent needs.

We partnered with VB to get the car repaired. A local business examined the car at no charge and generated a problem list. VB received her stimulus money and partnered to pay for repairs. Because communication is a safety issue, we helped VB pay the phone bill when unexpected expenses caused her to run short of money.

We also connected VB with psychotherapy to help her deal with her stress and anxiety, and in the process of arranging teletherapy, we were able to help her learn how to install and use digital video conferencing tools on her cell phone that the children needed for virtual education.

Since we began working with the family, the change in VB is remarkable. She is working with her providers to find effective dosages of medication for herself and her children. Learning new strategies for coping with stress, she no longer feels the need to self-harm. She is much more confident in her interactions with her children. She has expressed interest in attending the Dignified Discipline class offered by Kids’ Minds Matter to help strengthen her parenting skills.

With less chaos and conflict in the home, the older children have been completing their virtual classes. The youngest child has been registered for Kindergarten.

“You have helped me so much,” VB said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. You helped get my car running and got my son registered for school. I am so grateful. It feels good being able to sleep at night.”


Mental Health Navigator Program

Kids’ Minds Matter originated to raise awareness about the need for pediatric mental and behavioral health care services and to raise the funds required to make these services available in the region through Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Lee Health.

Administered and supervised by Kids’ Minds Matter at Golisano Children’s Hospital and funded by philanthropy, the MHN program launched in March with four in-school navigators based out of Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida who would work with Lee and Collier County school systems.

Since MHN was launched, parents participating families report their children’s attendance and grades have improved significantly.

The children in the program have improved in grade performance by 15% in just one quarter.

For math, students in the program improved their average grade by 12%.

The percentage of students who had perfect school attendance rose from 15% to 55%.

In addition, the MHN program has connected children and parents with mental health therapy services, helped families become self-sufficient in meeting their mental health care needs, secured funds for purchasing basic needs, such as food, toiletries, clothes, and help with auto repairs for work-related purposes, helped families apply for Lee Cares assistance, and the list of accomplishments goes on.


Learn More

To learn more about MHN, we invite you to watch our segment on Kids’ Minds Matter’s Mental Health Mondays Facebook live series and view some key takeaways here.