Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse teams up with city for youth mental health training


One in four to five children, about 22.5 percent, has a mental health disorder and it’s getting worse.

According to a Kids Count Warwick Data in Our Backyard presentation last October, there’s been a growing trend of youth mental health issues in youth and children in the Warwick community.

In an effort to better address those issues throughout the city, the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse secured a $1,500 grant from the city to hold training sessions in Youth Mental Health First Aid for city personnel.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

is an evidence-based mental health literacy course that introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people (ages 12 and up) in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

The training sessions are comprised of two four-and-a-half-hour workshops. Participants take a test at the end of the second training session and receive a certificate, just as they would for CPR or other First Aid training. The first workshop was held on May 9.

On Tuesday, 22 members from the city’s police department, fire department, municipal department, and school department participated in the second workshop.

“Trainees will be able to identify when a child is in crisis and they will learn the skills to be able to more sensibly have a discussion with the child about mental health and behavior in order to diffuse the crisis and get the professional help that is needed,” said Karen Ostrowsky, LICSW, coalition member, and project manager for the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center Early Intervention Program. “We hope for more funds to be available to continue to provide training so the entire community has this knowledge.”

Coalition chairman Sean Walsh said early intervention training came about as a result of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

“We’re happy to bring this [training] to Warwick,” he said, adding the coalition is hoping to hold two more trainings by the fall.

Warwick Data in Our Backyard is an annual fall presentation, sponsored by the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse and facilitated by Rhode Island Kids Count, that presents statistics for the previous year regarding the well-being of kids in the state.

“The statistics are broken down by community, and in Warwick they identified a glaring need for everyone – teachers, lunch aids, bus drivers, police, fire, school administrators – the people that are the first responders, to understand and identify what’s happening when a child shows emotional distress to provide ‘First Aid’ until the professionals can provide long-term help,” Ostrowsky said. “We find when it comes to mental health, whether for adults or young adults, we often feel uncomfortable about asking those delicate questions, saying “‘It’s not my area of expertise,’ but everyone is a first responder.”

According to a coalition press release, Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) noticed a similar trend in youth mental health issues among young children during Child Outreach Developmental Screening. In response, Claire Flaherty, director of VOWS and a coalition member, applied to the Warwick Department of Human Services for a mini-grant to fund Youth Mental Health First Aid Training, which was approved by Patricia St. Amant, director of family support for the department.

Mayor Scott Avedisian, who stopped by to observe the training on Tuesday, said the training is very positive for all agencies involved.

“This came about through the coalition, which worked hard to make sure we’re looking at the proper type of training, effective training, for employees,” he said. “This is the first time that all agencies that deal with youth mental health issues are in the same room, receiving the same training, and speaking the same language, so we’re all starting from the same place and before you know it, it all works.”

Ostrowsky said the mayor is concerned about the well-being of families and the increased risks kids are showing with mental health, which she said can range from something going on in the family to environmental factors and peer pressure.

“Some kids even show signs of mental illness early on, before adulthood. It can happen as young as 9 years old,” she said.

Susan Orban, LICSW, coordinator of the Washington County Coalition for Children, director of South County Healthy Body, Healthy Minds, and who served as one of the two training instructors, said youth mental health issues are much more common than anyone thinks.

“It’s so exciting for Warwick to make a commitment to train first responders and school personnel so they can link youth that are experiencing difficulty with the services they need,” she said. “This training is to help the non-mental health providers, which builds a safety net [in the community].”

Following a role-playing scenario between Orban and the second instructor, Scott Mueller, professor of social work at Rhode Island College, Mueller said it’s important to be attentive to non-verbal communication.

“Sixty-seven to 75 percent of the meaning of our communication is not in our words, but our actions,” he said.

Orban said the evidence-based training model started in Australia and has proven results.

“After three months, we do post-evaluations with the trained personnel and I’m happy to report that many have said they have increased confidence in being able to understand and identify issues and knowing what to say and do,” she said. “People are making referrals and linkages, so we know it’s working.”

Photos in Beacon 05-26-16 folder called Youth Mental Health 1


Susan Orban, who served as one of the training instructors, said those that complete the program have said they have increased confidence in identifying and understanding issues. (Beacon photos by Matt Bower)



Members from the city police, fire, municipal, and school department participate in Youth Mental Health First Aid training Tuesday. The training was held to address a growing trend of youth mental health issues being observed in children throughout Warwick. 3


Participants listen, while instructor Scott Mueller, RIC professor of social work, looks on.


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