Teach Your Children Well

Page 6 of 7

When a daycare center requests help, a member of the response team goes in to observe the kids and to assess the problems; if a child shows signs of developmental delay or serious mental illness, the team members refer them to the right services. They also teach parents how to handle behavioral problems at home.

"The things we do are very simple. We help kids with communication and social skills. Often, child-care providers don't have the time to do that, so having an extra person in the classroom really helps," Lawrence says. So far this year, the response team has worked with a total of 1,700 kids -- 194 of whom needed intense help. "The child-care centers get one to four hours a week of direct coaching with the teacher and the children. It usually lasts three to six months, and then we're done. Teachers can do the rest from there; we just give them better observation skills. They can prevent problems from escalating just by being keyed into the kids' body language."

The state Department of Human Services will report to the legislature on the effectiveness of the ten pilot programs in February 2002 and on what it will take to expand mental health services to every daycare program in the state.

At the same time, a newly formed committee called the Statewide Initiative for Children's Mental Health will be researching how Colorado can develop a statewide plan for providing mental health care to young kids. The fifty-member committee, which is made up of mental health and early-childhood-education professionals, as well as people from the state human services and education departments, began meeting in February; its members hope to spend the next year researching children's mental health programs in other states including Florida, Arizona and Ohio, where such plans are currently being developed. They'll also come up with ways to fund the Colorado plan.

"We can't just rely on the state to fund it," says the Mental Health Corporation of Denver's Grimmer, who is a member of the committee.

Weinhold, who is also on the committee, says the initiative has been many years in the making. But after the Columbine High School massacre two years ago, they got serious. "Columbine really galvanized us, and it was really a catalyzing event around the country. The Columbine shootings may not have happened if there had been early intervention for those boys."

The committee members and officials at the human services department hope that the public and the government will start taking children's mental health more seriously.

"I would like to see a trained professional workforce that has the ability to deal with mental health problems, early childhood development, developmental disabilities and substance abuse, because they're all interrelated," says Golden. "Ideally, I would like to see every child-care provider in Colorado hooked up with a mental health consultant."

Tiffany Martin wishes every parent could get the same kind of help that she and her children have received at the Renaissance Children's Center. The 29-year-old, who works as a clerk at Denver Health Medical Center, knows what it's like to have a mental illness: She has had panic attacks since the age of ten, but they didn't impair her life until a few years ago.

For no apparent reason, Martin sank into a deep depression at that time and was afraid to leave her house. She managed to see a doctor who diagnosed her with severe depression, anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, but she eventually became so frightened to go outside that she had to quit her job. She couldn't even get food stamps, because she was terrified to go to the Golden office to apply. Martin stayed in her home for a year.

Luckily, she was referred to a therapist who made home visits. "She was my crutch," Martin says. "The commitment she gave to me and my family was unbelievable. Two or three times a week, she'd come to my home. I had lost a lot of weight, and she'd make sure I was eating. She sent me cards and gave me the boost I needed to get myself better."

In 1997, Martin resolved to leave her house. She decided her first trip would be to a safe place: her mother's house. "One day I got in my car and drove there. It was really hard. I was really shaky and nervous, and I worked on my breathing the whole way there. When I got to my mom's house, she opened the door and started crying," she says.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon