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Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton supports children's mental health through partnership with Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health agency

Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton supports children's mental health through partnership with Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health agency

May is Mental Health Awareness Month - and it's important to know that mental health struggles are not just an adult problem. According to the CDC, one-in-six children ages 2-8 years old struggle with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. One way the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton has been able to support mental and behavioral health for children in Stark County is through a partnership with the Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health (C&A) agency to provide counseling and prevention staff to nonprofits offering afterschool care or summer programming. These trusted providers are the Boys and Girls Club of Massillon, the YMCA of Central Stark County and Lighthouse Ministries of Canton.

Having behavioral health prevention specialists onsite has helped students learn ways to self-regulate, which can often be the difference between a child staying in afterschool or summer programming or being expelled. With workforce needs soaring, it’s important for working parents to have quality, reliable childcare options, making preventative behavioral health supports all the more valuable for these programs.

Boys and Girls Club of Massillon
At the Boys and Girls Club of Massillon, mental and emotional well-being has become an important part of the organization’s culture, including designated spaces to help students (called “members”) deescalate. Spaces include things such as sensory wall art and the “calming corner,” equipped with soft seating, sensory bins, and dimmed lighting. Prevention specialists provide advice and teach strategies for managing behaviors to Boys and Girls Club staff and youth workers to help them better handle negative behaviors within their program areas. Members form trusting relationships with their peers, staff, and the specialists. The specialists teach the members about building and maintaining friendships, and how to deal with conflict.

“Prevention specialists meet with both individuals and small groups of members experiencing regular conflicts. They use modeling to demonstrate strategies for effective communication and problem-solving, while teaching members skills like active listening, turn-taking during conversations, and how to express emotions and concerns without blaming others for the conflict,” explained Mackenzie Brenner, Director of Trauma-Informed Care at the Boys and Girls Club.

YMCA of Central Stark County
The YMCA (the Y) has been known in the community for its before/afterschool care and summer camps for decades. Having mental and behavioral assistance in place has been a game changer, allowing the Y to refer families to needed resources and services.

“Our partnership with C&A has been nothing short of transformative,” expressed Heidi Wilson, Vice President of Child Care and Camping at YMCA of Central Stark County. “We have been able to have access to preventative and therapeutic services for our students as well as training and mental health connections for our staff that were severely lacking. Not only are students benefitting from these services while in our care, but they also are able to be referred for continuing services, should they need them, giving families an additional connection to support their mental health needs.”

Lighthouse Ministries
Lighthouse Ministries serves children from one of Canton’s poorest neighborhoods, offering after-school and summer programming. Many students who attend Lighthouse programs are experiencing ongoing trauma and all are from low-income families who live in an area with high rates of crime and violence. According to Lighthouse staff, like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, the addition of a behavioral health prevention specialist has benefited both the children and the staff.

“During the summer, the specialist met with our staff for 45 minutes each morning. This time was dedicated to hearing the staff relay how things were going with the students. There was one student in particular who struggled the majority of the summer. The specialist went over several different strategies with the staff encouraging them along the way, giving the staff relief as they now had a resource that was bringing a new body of information and expertise to lean on as they figured out ways to support our students,” said Darin Nissely, Executive Director of Lighthouse Ministries.

Prevention specialists also interact in fun and engaging ways with the students through all of these providers. Games like Emotion Jenga and Jeopardy provide opportunities for students to talk through different feelings with the specialist and their peers for encouragement and support.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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