The East Greenwich School District and the eight South County school districts are recipients of a two-year, $100,000 federal grant to train non-mental-health professionals – school staff, police officers, community members – on how to recognize early signs of mental health problems in children.

“We learned about South County’s grant proposal and realized it was a great opportunity for East Greenwich if we joined forces,” said Nina Mackta, a social worker and head of the mentoring program for the district.

The grant money will pay for an eight-hour training course – Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) – that was developed in Australia in 2001 and is now offered in more than 20 countries, according to Susan Orban of Washington County Coalition for Children, which is facilitating the grant.

“We’ve set out to accomplish three major goals,” said Orban. “We want to ensure immediate help for every young person who needs it. We want to make every adult aware of children’s mental health needs. And we hope to remove the mental illness stigma that so often makes situations worse.”

The idea is to be able to stop problems before they get too big and before kids get so desperate for help they make bad, even dangerous, choices. East Greenwich is still working on who to train but over the next two years, the grant should provide training for about 40 people in EG (500 in the R.I. consortium overall).

The grant is yet another step in an expanding mental health care focus including a recent review of mental health care offerings in the district. That review resulted in five recommendations:

  • Assess current programs – East Greenwich offers a lot of different things, but what exactly?
  • Implement the first-responder training (offered by the grant outlined above).
  • Standardize data collection so the district can better track how students are doing.
  • Examine mental health staffing levels, comparing them with local and national recommendations.
  • Better engage the youth of the district.

“Newtown is on everyone’s mind,” said Mackta, referring to the school shooting two years ago where a young man fatally shot 20 students and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “We’re trying to bring East Greenwich up to snuff.”

She added, “There’s a mystery around mental health. We’re shining a light on it. We’re trying to clarify what it is.”


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