Champaign County gets $9 million grant to help kids

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Champaign County gets $9 million grant to help kids


Social Services, Juvenile Justice


Champaign county finally is able to get a grant to give troubled youth an alternative. The program is very aggressive in giving help to those youth with deep emotional issues.


Julie Wurth




5 October 2009

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Five years after losing out because of a state clerical error, Champaign County has won a $9 million federal grant to overhaul services for troubled youths.

The six-year grant will fund an ambitious program to coordinate and improve help for children and teens with serious emotional problems, and give families a much bigger say in their treatment.

The money comes from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

The project will be coordinated by the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health and the Champaign County Mental Health Board.

"It's really a wonderful opportunity," said an elated Peter Tracy, executive director of the mental health board.

Champaign County has a broad array of services for children with serious emotional problems, from juvenile offenders to battered children. But they're not well-coordinated, and families often have trouble finding appropriate services, officials say.

The idea behind "The ACCESS Initiative" – Agencies of Champaign County Engaging in Systems of Services – is to set up a coordinated "system of care," rather than sending families to several different agencies.

It will target youths ages 10 to 17 who are at risk to be or are already involved in the juvenile justice system, as well as those with multiple issues – trouble with authorities and problems in school, for example.

The project will have a particular focus on black children, who are "significantly overrepresented" in juvenile justice and school disciplinary systems, officials said. A disproportionate number also live in poverty, receive special-education services, are involved in foster care, and experience family instability and health problems.

The project will design individualized "plans of care" for 200 youths and their families annually. Services will be "family-driven and youth centered," and money will follow the child rather than specific agencies, Tracy said.

Another 100 youths will be referred to prevention services each year.

Families will be involved in governance of the program – everything from hiring decisions to how money will be spent. Youths and families helped write the grant and will make up 51 percent of the project's governing body.

The ultimate goal is to transform the county's mental health and social-services infrastructure so that it is "seamless" and follows the child, officials say.

"It's an incredible paradigm shift. It really is family-driven," Tracy said.

The mental health board has been moving toward a system of care since 2002 and in 2006 began a pilot project focusing on youths with mental health needs at the county's juvenile detention center.

The grant means the project can expand to serve children across the county, Tracy said.

Almost 1,500 children are thought to be at risk for severe emotional disturbances.

The ACCESS Initiative will include schools, community groups, mentoring programs, family-service agencies, health care providers, child-welfare agencies – "any system that touches on the lives of children," Tracy said. The University of Illinois is also a key partner.

How will the program work? A school might refer a child with severe behavior problems who is also in foster care. Case coordinators will work with the family to set up a single plan that could draw on different agencies. Families can bring in neighbors, friends, clergy, relatives – whomever they want.

"It will be a plan for the kid, instead of a plan within every different system," Tracy said.

Currently, he said, schools, mental health agencies, juvenile authorities and child-welfare advocates don't always connect very well.

The change will be from the bottom up, and that's "very, very exciting," said Karen Simms, program director with Best Interest of Children, which works to keep families together and out of the child-welfare system.

Most programs are created from the top down and don't always speak to families' needs, she said. They may not be located in the target neighborhood, or require families to fill out forms answering the same questions a dozen times.

Here, "you get a chance to create the services that people in the community say they want and need."

About $1 million has been allocated the first year for planning, training, staffing and infrastructure development. Roughly $120,000 will go toward a state liaison within the Department of Human Services. Another $200,000 a year is reserved for evaluation services by the UI Psychological Services Center to measure the program's success.

Staff will include a project director, care coordinators, family resource workers, youth coordinators, family advocates, and other research and support staff. A "cultural competence" coordinator will help ensure the program accommodates people of all backgrounds and uses understandable language.

The steering committee, which includes family and youth, will hold its first meeting Tuesday evening.

This is the fourth time Champaign County has applied for the federal grant. The first application, in 2004, was rejected out of hand because it exceeded the required page limit – by one paragraph. State officials made a pagination error while reprinting it, and federal officials didn't even evaluate it on its merits.

Given the funding cuts many agencies have sustained in the last year, "it couldn't have come at a better time," added Patricia Avery, executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Area Project. "There are so many out there who are in need of so many services. It just makes us feel re-energized."




Julie Wurth, "Champaign County gets $9 million grant to help kids," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #223, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/223 (accessed January 28, 2022).

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