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New Program for Parents Results from Community THINKing

What is the day like for parents of children who suffer from serious emotional and behavioral disturbances? How are they affected? The Department of Child and Family Studies' Eloise Boterf, mother of two children with special needs, knows too well.

"The whole family is under strain as exhausted parents devote so much energy to one child," she said, "never getting a break themselves, and unable to give sufficient attention to other children. It is difficult to find a babysitter, and even more difficult to find and maintain good jobs when both childcare centers and schools require parents to remove their child on a regular basis."

A project developed by THINK partners (Tampa-Hillsborough Integrated Services for Kids ) is helping to give these parents some relief through a partnership among respite care and mentoring service providers, and the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health. The hope of Project Relief is to increase the availability of respite services that reduce stress on the family, to train more agencies and individuals to be able to provide respite care, and to evaluate the effectiveness of respite services.

Once caregivers have received training, they can provide care that is based on the individual needs of each family. Forty-one families, including Eloise, have already been served through Project Relief.

"One thing that has been especially important for me is that I can request respite for my children separately," added Eloise, who is also coordinator for the project. "That has enabled me to spend one-on-one time with each of my children individually, and at other times have them both cared for by their respite worker while I take a break."

Project Relief is just one part of the THINK five-year federally funded initiative. The goals of THINK reflect principles of the system of care framework pioneered in part by CFS faculty:

o blending funds across child serving systems,

o involving families fully in planning and service delivery, and

o enhancing advocacy efforts for children.

Children who qualify for the program have been identified as having serious emotional disturbances (SED) by their school system, and have been involved with either the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.

CFS, with its community partners, is now concluding the planning phase of THINK. As Year Two begins, several community-based service programs supported by the THINK initiative are up and running. Along with Project Relief getting started, a local chapter of Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health has been created and staffed, two neighborhoods have been targeted for enhanced services and supports&endash;Tampa's USF neighborhood, and Plant City. Work has already begun in these communities, focussed on finding the best strategies for delivering appropriate mental health services.

In partnership with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, the CFS faculty are responsible for directing all evaluation support activities for THINK. CFS faculty will continue to conduct evaluations, facilitate planning efforts, and support development of a strong local family organization.

"Agencies have been receptive to THINK," said Norin Dollard, who leads CFS's efforts with the initiative. "There has been an incredible show of commitment, and we hope that financial commitment will somehow follow to support this work for the long-term."

For information regarding THINK, Norin Dollard can be reached at (813)974-3761, and Eloise Boterf can be reached at (813) 974-6123 for information about Project Relief.

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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