September 30, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Mental Health, Department of

Collaborative Effort Transforming Mental Health Services for Youth


MONTGOMERY – More than 730 children and youth with serious emotional disorders and their families have been served to date as a result of the East Central Children’s Health Collaborative Project, known as ECCHCO. ECCHCO is at the end of its second year of work towards transforming mental health services for youth in Pike, Bullock and Macon counties. The ECCHCO project is the result of a federal system of care grant awarded to the Alabama Department of Mental Health in October 2009 by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA awarded the grant for up to $9 million over six years.

Parents who have a youth that develops symptoms of a serious emotional disorder can oftentimes find themselves in a perplexing situation. Knowing where to go for services is a challenge given the scarcity of mental health resources for youth. The goal of ECCHCO is to develop a system of care responsive to these mental health needs and provide a more seamless way for families to get services without being bounced around in a disconnected fashion between available resources. It addresses the comprehensive needs of youth by creating a system that transcends traditional mental health boundaries through integrating social services, education and juvenile justice resources with mental health services in a community-based outreach setting.

Year one of the ECCHCO project focused mainly on planning, and ADMH contracted with the East Central
Mental Health Center to work with community partners in each county to implement the project. Seven care teams were established at community points-of-entry to help families and youth connect with needed mental health services no matter how or where they entered the system. These care teams began providing services in July 2010 at the Pike County Juvenile Court, Pike County DHR, Pike County Schools, Troy City Schools and the Charles Henderson Child Health Center. Care teams were also established in Bullock and Macon counties to work with DHR, juvenile justice and education agencies.

Year two of the ECCHCO project, ending today, September 30, 2011, was a year of transition from planning to action. According to ECCHCO Project Director Charlotte Watkins, much of the focus was on the system of care core values of community-based outreach, being family-driven and youth-guided, and ensuring cultural and linguistic competence. Watkins also states that, “The biggest accomplishment of Year two was the establishment of both youth and family support groups.” The support groups were established in each county and began meeting monthly. Care teams then started encouraging families and youth they met at the points-of-entry to join these support groups. This enhanced social involvement and empowered affected families by allowing them to share their ideas for future phases of the program.

Year two also saw the establishment of a Social Marketing Workgroup to brand the ECCHCO project through a logo, website and other materials. In addition, a delegation of 15 people including youth and family representatives attended a SAMHSA-sponsored System of Care Conference in July. The conference provided opportunities for the delegation to learn more about objectives and techniques to ensure success in establishing a system of care. Watkins vividly recalls, “After one of our parents attended a session, I saw her smiling from ear to ear and asked how it went. She just began saying over and over ‘I’m not alone.’ She explained that with everything she had been through trying to get her child help, she always thought she was the only one facing those challenges. She was so happy to hear other parents who have experienced similar situations and their stories.” Watkins says this is just one example of how beneficial the ECCHCO project really is. She says, “The communities, family members and youth have been very vocal about the value of this project and how vital it is to them.”

Looking ahead to year three, which begins October 1, 2011, big plans are in store for the ECCHCO project. Staff will be working with stakeholders and families to introduce wrap-around services. Staff will also begin training care teams and school system personnel on evidence-based practices such as coping powers and positive behavioral supports. In addition, a Cultural and Linguistic Competent Workgroup will be established along with a Local Evaluation Workgroup. Overall, the ECCHCO project has made great strides in transforming mental health services for youth. Kim Hammack, acting director of mental illness community programs at ADMH and ECCHCO liaison, states, “It is time to start providing a system that is youth and family driven, rather than the traditional provider-driven system. ECCHCO provides opportunities to think differently and truly transform services.”



For more information about the ECCHCO project and/or mental health services for children and youth, contact Kim Hammack at ADMH’s Division of Mental Illness & Substance Abuse Services at 334-242-3200.

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