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SU's Center for Healthy Communities Celebrates Children's Mental Health Matters Month
Early Childhood Support Program Manager Janelle Parker, left, and Director of SU's Center for Healthy Communities, Rachel Moore, at the Children and Mental Health Awareness event.

SU's Center for Healthy Communities Celebrates Children's Mental Health Matters Month

SALISBURY, MD---Salisbury University’s Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) recently joined over 70 vendors to help promote safe and healthy environments for local families at the inaugural Children and Mental Health Awareness event in downtown Salisbury. 

In conjunction with Children’s Mental Health Matters month in May, the Wicomico County Partnership for Families and Children hosted the event to provide resources to address mental health and substance use and showcase community activities for both children and adults that improve overall well-being. 

“The event was a wonderful opportunity to connect with families and caregivers who aren’t in the traditional environments where these mental health and child care services are highlighted,” said Janelle Parker, LCSW-C and Early Childhood Support program manager in SU’s Lower Shore Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program (LSECMHC). “It’s important for families to know what programs are available to them and how we can support their children through all stages of life and the many transitions they go through.” 

During the event, CHC volunteers provided resources on its programs and gave away kindergarten readiness backpacks to families with pre-school-aged children. 

The backpacks contained an interactive summer learning packet, nonfiction books, vocabulary building conversation cards and a guide to help walk families through the learning materials included. 

The LSECMHC offers behavioral consultation services for childcare providers, a growing need now more than ever, Parker said. 

In 2023 Congress and the Biden Administration increased funding for the National Head Start Association (NHSA) by $960 million for a total budget of $11.99 billion to help combat the urgent need for hiring more child care providers and for additional operating resources.

“SU’s program is a necessity in ensuring that our local child care providers have what they need to meet the social-emotional needs of young children,” said Parker. “Early childhood (birth to 5) is a very significant period in a child's development. It is when they learn vital life skills that transcend beyond preschool.

 It is important to have providers who are knowledgeable about best practices, management of challenging behaviors, and who are in tune to all of the complicated needs of today’s children, such as divorce, homelessness, separation anxiety and unprecedented post-pandemic needs.”

CHC programs provide children’s mental health services at every age. The center is working to produce qualified graduates to help meet the mental health care needs across Maryland. 

Through the Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care (BHIPP) Program, SU M.S.W. interns are placed across the state to provide children’s mental health services to rural areas. 

Patient ages span from birth, including maternal mental health care, to young adults. Students receiving training on and cover cases encompassing all aspects of clinical social work, including ADHD, anxiety and depression. 

 “Our interns are addressing serious mental health needs of children including suicidal ideation as we still face a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health,” said Jan McIntyre, LCSW-C and BHIPP program manager. “I’m proud that many pass their licensure exams before graduating and are being offered jobs in high need areas across the state.”

M.S.W. student and BHIPP intern Brianna Church, of Mechanicsville, MD, learned firsthand just how underserved some rural communities are. 

“The most notable takeaway from my BHIPP internship is how limited access to mental health resources, especially for children, are in Southern Maryland specifically,” she said. “I had the privilege of treating 68 patients ranging from 2-24 and yet know the reality that there are several waitlists around the county at the few practices who provide this care.”

Church’s placement, PM Kidz, is tackling the provider shortage head on. The practice has two locations featuring a new PM Kidz Plus program that focuses on children’s mental health services and recently hired additional licensed professionals to help expand offerings across the region. These included Church, who has passed her licensure exam and will start in her new role this summer, following graduation.  

“While I’ve always known I wanted to work with children, my prior experience was in counseling at the public-school system level,” she said. “My experiences in a clinical setting provided freedom to explore the vast aspects of mental health care that I found so impactful. The ability to deep dive into every aspect of family life and a range of diagnosis allowed me to expand beyond the academic side, and my BHIPP internship allowed me to find the right fit for me as I start my career.”

Learn more about SU and opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at the SU website