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CFS Helps Develop Model to Engage Urban Families

In an effort to help at-risk children and their families develop skills for improving mental health and educational outcomes, CFS staff members Kathy Armstrong and Mario Hernandez, along with USF developmental pediatrician Jim Scott have secured funding from the Casey Foundation for Families are First Teachers: A Demonstration Project for Engaging Urban Families to Support Infants and Young Children with Challenging Behaviors. Children from six weeks to five years of age will be served at Luther Village, a subsidized neighborhood childcare center located within a Hillsborough County neighborhood commonly referred as "Suitcase City." In this area, many families face the challenges of high poverty, low employment opportunities, drug abuse, crime, and a lack of transportation.

Research has linked risk factors in early childhood with the development of challenging behaviors and evidence of poor outcomes when these behaviors are not addressed. Unfortunately, approximately thirty percent of children who need intensive special education services start school without receiving any prior support. The Luther Village program director, staff, and residents from the surrounding neighborhood share a vision to create a community of caring and support for these young children and their families.

As stated in the project's concept paper, CFS staff, including co-PI Kathy Armstrong, Mario Hernandez and Glen Dunlap, will share the "mission of promoting mental health and well-being of children and families through the development of new knowledge and innovative practices, and the application of best practices through education, training, dissemination, consultation, evaluation and collaboration." The USF Department of Pediatrics will provide comprehensive training for pediatric residents, who will become the first source of support for young children and their families.

Mario Hernandez will provide ongoing consultation to assure that training meets the needs of families from culturally diverse backgrounds, and Glen Dunlap will provide assistance with the Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) model of intervention, which has been shown to support substantial improvement for children with very challenging behaviors.

"In addition," stated Kathy Armstrong, "Jim Scott and I have just received approval to begin a record review at the Early Intervention Program (EIP) to find out how many children have significant behavior problems, as those data are not available."

As stated in Part C of the Federal Individual with Disabilities Act, Early Intervention Services are offered to children from birth to three years who have been diagnosed with medical or mental health conditions. The EIP, housed within the USF Department of Pediatrics, currently serves 2,000 children and families per year. Once a child becomes three-years-old or older, he or she may be eligible for those services and programs provided through the Hillsborough County School System.

"Jim and I are now co-training pediatric residents and school psychology interns in developmental assessment," added Kathy. "Once we get the data on the EIP, we intend to write a position paper on young children with challenging behaviors and their families, leading toward intervention to support them in their development. "

For additional information, contact Kathy Armstrong at 813-974-8530.

The Department of Child and Family Studies (CFS) is a department of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida. The faculty and staff of CFS are committed to enhancing the development, mental health and well-being of children and families through leadership in integrating research, theory & practice.

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