$5 million grant strengthens Elkhart County's system of care

Work is beginning on the nearly $5 million federal grant awarded to Elkhart County to strengthen its system of care, The SOURCE. 

The SOURCE is a multi-agency network of programs and services for youth with mental health or behavioral challenges and their families.

The grant was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and was available only to state and local government entities and tribal nations. Elkhart County was one of 32 recipients nationwide and the only recipient in Indiana this year. Oaklawn, Elkhart County’s state-designated community mental health center, is spearheading the project.

“This grant is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen partnerships, improve access and empower families engaged in the system of care,” said Laurie Nafziger, Oaklawn president and CEO. “Receiving such a coveted grant is a testament to the dedication and leadership of many community partners. We are honored to be a part of it.”

Kristine Kruger, Elkhart County’s grants administrator, said, “This is an exciting opportunity. These funds will enable The SOURCE to expand outreach and assist far more youth and families than ever before. The County is thrilled to be a partner in the expansion of this program and we are anxious to see the benefits this funding will provide.”

The project has six key initiatives, and each supports the idea that there’s “no wrong door” through which to enter services, explained Bonnie Raine, Oaklawn’s System of Care Coordinator and lead author of the grant.

“From your first contact, we want you to have a warm connection to the service you need,” Raine said.

The grant focuses on the following six areas:

1. Improving access among “front-door” organizations

One of the grant’s objectives is to ensure youth are getting access to the services they need quickly. The SOURCE will be evaluating and identifying innovative ways that “front-door” organizations — such as schools— can immediately connect youth and families to services at other agencies. The easier it is for families to engage in services, the more likely they are to follow through with it and to gain the benefits.

2. Early identification of at-risk youth in schools and partner agencies

Early identification of at-risk youth, combined with the appropriate intervention, can literally change a child’s future. The grant aims to work with the seven school districts in Elkhart County, as well as other youth serving agencies, to provide training for staff to help identify at-risk youth and offer services on-site. It will essentially expand the Partnership for Children, a collaboration of 12 youth-serving agencies in the county, which began last year.

3. Early childhood expertise and consultation

One of Elkhart County’s needs, as identified by The SOURCE, is better mental health expertise for young children (birth-age 6), as well as greater collaboration with primary care and early childhood care providers. Some children are at an increased risk for mental health challenges due to experiences from early childhood, such as medical trauma, abuse, neglect, a parent’s addiction, etc. The SOURCE wants to grow the expertise of professionals in this area, as well as connect with families who may have at-risk children.

4. Better access to mental health services for those engaged in the juvenile justice system and juvenile justice diversion

More than half of the youth in the juvenile justice system are there because of behaviors resulting from mental health challenges, Raine said. Identifying those youth and getting them the right services ensures both their behaviors and the underlying mental health needs are addressed. The SOURCE hopes that in doing so, they can also divert more youth away from the juvenile justice system and to community-based programs that will give them positive alternatives.

5. Strengthening the system of care infrastructure through community education, youth- and family-leadership and cultural competency

Another objective of the grant is to cultivate a vibrant family and youth movement. Strengthening and broadening the system of care is not the job of professionals alone, Raine said. Families and youth who have engaged the system have a leadership role to play, both in educating the community and helping other families navigate the system. Additionally, leaders hope to raise the social profile of The SOURCE and what role it plays in the community. They also want to ensure the system is responsive to the diversity represented in Elkhart County and ensure services are delivered in a culturally competent way.

6. Evaluation through meaningful data

Lastly, The SOURCE will identify ways to ensure the grant is achieving its objectives through evaluation of data.

SAMHSA will award nearly $3.2 million over four years, and another $1.8 million will come through local matching grants and in-kind work.

“This grant is a very big deal for children and families in our community,” said Bonita Schrock, Oaklawn’s Vice President for Child and Adolescent Outpatient Services. “The sheer size of the award really gives us the opportunity to fill the gaps that have been identified by leaders within our system of care, as well as youth and families.”

While the grant provides an infusion of resources to expand the system of care, the entire project is designed with an eye on sustainability, Raine said.

“The idea is that these initiatives will become so baked in to the way we do things,” Raine said, “they won’t need a second thought.”

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