Resolving school issue with care for the whole family – How the Mental Health Navigator program helps children

By Jeannine Sparkes, Mental Health Navigator

During the 2019/2020 school year, Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Kids’ Minds Matter, an initiative to raise awareness and funding to address the need for pediatric mental and behavioral healthcare services in Southwest Florida, hired four in-school navigators dedicated to Lee and Collier County school systems in a pilot program.

The Mental Health Navigators (MHN), whose positions are fully funded by philanthropy, provide peer mentoring and support for families whose students face 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. MHN are able to recognize the frustration that sometimes comes with getting the appropriate supports for their loved one.

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 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.

It’s a program that’s working and we’ve seen some real results.


The Story of B

B was assigned to the MHN program because he was refusing to get on the bus, had missed nearly half of the school days last year, and was having severe behavioral issues in school and at home.

His was diagnosed with ADHD and had been receiving services at school for that diagnosis since he was in kindergarten. He is now in 4th grade and more than 2 years behind grade level, extremely frustrated and acting out.

His family has been through a significant level of trauma and hardship in the last year, including a period of homelessness, the death of several relatives, the loss of contact with and income from their dad, and the loss of the family car.

After working with the family for a while, we have reason to suspect that B might be on the autism spectrum. We have had an evaluation and are waiting for the results. He has also been referred for Applied Behavior Analysis therapy to help him with emotional and behavioral regulation.

This year, he was in a class of 21 students and having major behavioral issues. As an intervention, we have been able to partner with the school to find B a smaller class where he can be comfortable and do his work. He is doing much better in this class – completing work on his instructional level and getting along with peers.

We have begun the assessment process to find out why traditional supports for students with learning problems have not worked for him and getting him specialized therapy to meet his unique needs.

With these changes, his mother no longer has to fight to get him on the bus. He is comfortable going to school and in his classroom. We are also working with his Mom and the school to see if his younger brother, who has just started kindergarten, has a similar issue, so we can intervene earlier and help him get help if needed.

We have been able to work with local agencies to provide the family with beds for five children, new school clothes to replace some of the ones they have outgrown, and assistance with the broken car. We have also helped mom to continue childcare for the youngest two children, so she is able to work.

“Few things have worked because of all the hardships we have been through,” said B’s mother. “But things are getting better since we have been in the Kids’ Minds Matter program at Golisano.”

Learn More

Recently, 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.