Mental Health Mondays – “Navigating Mental Health in SWFL Schools”

Mental Health Mondays - September 7 Event

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“Navigating Mental Health in SWFL Schools”

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Mental Health Navigators Peggy Jugmahansingh, Joseph R. Craig, Jeannine Sparkes and Richard Keelan, Child Advocacy Supervisor for Golisano Children’s Hospital discussed “Navigating Mental Health in SWFL Schools,” specifically the Mental Health Navigator program.


What do Mental Health Navigators (MHN) do?

  • Mental Health Navigators relate one-on-one with families on mental health challenges
    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
    • Recognize the frustration that sometimes comes with getting the appropriate supports for their loved one
  • Enabling the family to develop skills towards self-sufficiency
    The MHN program strives for families to learn how to self-advocate, so that in time, they can rely on their own resources without the program’s help.


Impact of the Mental Health Navigator program by Kids’ Minds Matter
Since launching in March, the MHN services that families have received include:
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 9 beds for children sleeping on makeshift floor beds (4 beds for 1 family; five for another)
  • Enrolling three children in a week’s 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 30 plus transactions for basic needs such as food, toiletries and clothes.


Referrals to the MHN program

  • Where do referrals come from? The school mental health team which is made up of the counselor, social worker, psychologist and nurse. Occasionally an administrator may participate.
  • Who may get referred to the MHN program? Generally, the children who are referred to the program are struggling in multiple areas – behavior, attendance and grades – or some combination of these and have not responded to the typical school-based interventions for resolving these issues.
  • How do children get referred to the MHN program? Any member of the school staff can enter a concern about a child into the school mental health data base. From there school personnel contact the family and have them complete a short screening tool. Often at this point parents are directed to services to help their child such as counseling or other community resources. In most cases this is enough, and parents are able to connect with the needed services and resources.
  • Students referred to the MHN program are usually those cases where the school and the family can’t “close the gap” between what the student needs and what school and family can do without outside assistance.


What is the Child and Family Team Meeting?

  1. Mental Health Navigators provide and encourage the development of support systems within the community and school by facilitating the Child and Family Team Meeting (CFTM) that directly connect with a family struggling with mental health issues.
  2. Through the CFTM, the Mental Health Navigation program focuses on bringing all the supports together under one meeting with parents to discuss:
    •  Tasks
    •  Establish deadlines for each task
    •  Identify needs and existing and potential barriers
  3. Families emerge from the CFTM feeling empowered to have their voices clearly heard during this process and encourage providers to develop a unified plan as united stakeholders in the family’s stabilization.
  4. Above all, the CFTM looks at other supports within family and friends that could also be tapped into to address issues that prevent the child from reaching his or her potential.


How is supporting the family’s well-being a key part of supporting the child’s wellness?

  • The National Institute of Mental Health a division of the National Institutes of Health: “Including parents and other members of the family in treatment can help families understand how a child’s individual challenges may affect relationships with parents and siblings and vice versa.”
  • Having a family member with mental or emotional problems can be overwhelming to the parents and other children. They may not know how to help their child and may feel frustrated or inadequate. Parents may also have their own psychological issues that may or may not be identified.
  • Mental or emotional disorders can also cause parents to miss work because the child does not want to attend school or is sent home for misbehaving. This can cause financial stress and difficulty paying bills.
  • It is important to make sure all family members’ needs are being met – respite for parents, adequate sleep, making sure all children are getting enough attention and that all of the resources are not focused only on one child. It is not possible to support a child with mental or emotional problems unless parents are making sure all of their own needs are being met.
  • MHNs and Child and Family Teams work to develop a support system for the family to help make sure the family is stable and resilient and can meet the challenges that come with living mental illness.


What is are “Wrap-around Services”?

  • The wrap-around approach is a team approach in which we try to support and empower the family to meet the needs of their child
  • Examples of wrap-around services can include connecting parents and children to mental health services, providing transportation, helping complete applications for housing, financial assistance, or school enrollment, helping families who are food insecure access local food resources, literally anything that helps increase the family’s access to the services and resources necessary for helping the child and family function in a more healthy way.


Definition of Protective Factors
Attributes or conditions of individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that reduce or eliminate risk and promote the healthy development and well-being of children and families
Five categories of Protective Factors:

  1. Parental Resilience
  2. Social Connections
  3. Concrete Supports in Times of Need
  4. Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development
  5. Social & Emotional Competency of Children


What a Mental Health Navigator does not do
There are some things that they do not do because they are not medically trained, nor are they licensed mental health practitioners (LMHPs).

They do not:

  • Provide hands-on health care services
  • Provide physical assessment, diagnosis, or treatment
  •  Provide professional counseling and/or therapy.




Q: How does one get in touch with a Mental Health Navigator?
A: We’re a pilot program and referrals come through the school district. Kids’ Minds Matter offers a lot of free resources that are a good place to start. The school district gets a lot of input from the mental health team at the school. A guidance counselor or school counselor may be able to help. There are amazing mental health professionals in the school and reaching out to the school should not be something that people are afraid of. Guidance counselors are no longer there just to help with scheduling but help with social-emotional well-being.

Q: Do you help provide a child a pet that will help them deal with their mental health emotions?
A: It’s possible. I’ve seen Child and Family Teams go to places that were unexpected. If it was determined a pet was needed, I can see it happen.