After working in human services for 40 years with 30 years as a therapist, Joseph knew that becoming the first Mental Health Navigator in Southwest Florida would allow him to better connect people who felt hopeless with help. He understands the struggles of families with special needs children from dealing with his own son, who is bipolar.
“I had no one like a navigator in helping with my child,” he said. “We had to go from place to place and actually kind of shop services. The Navigator program avoids that and brings everybody together in one place to coordinate and take care of the needs of the child. We didn’t have any coordination when my child was growing up.”
What he likes about the program is that the school system becomes a partner in caring for children, as well as the families. The process starts after a referral from the school with a child family team meeting that draws awareness to the struggles a child is having and assigns concrete steps to work toward stabilizing the child and family.
Success of the program is measured by the child’s behavior, grades and attendance. For one student, steps to manage anger, aggressiveness and tardiness involved helping his newly divorced mother get her car repaired so he would not be late for school, help her get a job to remove the financial stress and connect the student with additional support to manage his emotions from the divorce. It worked.
“We are family focused, which means we are not just focused on the child because we know the child lives in an environment that’s going to have an impact,” he said. “What separates our program is that we address all the conditions in the family.”
The program’s wrap-around flexible funds are available for Navigators to help families address issues including repairing the family car, having alarms installed to prevent a child from sneaking out at night, or paying to get a child’s support animal from the shelter when the family could not afford to.
“We are able to provide short-term funds as we work on long-term solutions,” he said. “There are creative solutions that no one’s tried before. And I think that’s really exciting in our field.”
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