OKEECHOBEE — We wrote our first article in April of 2018 about the Children’s Mental Health – System of Care in Okeechobee County. We’ve come a long way since then! This is just an update to let you know the progress we have made in less than two years.
What is a system of care? To paraphrase the official definition by Stroul, Blau and Friedman (2010): A System of Care (SOC), is a coordinated network of community-based services and supports for children and youth with (or at risk for) mental health challenges – as well as their families. An SOC builds meaningful partnerships with families and youth in their community – taking their culture and language into account – all to help them function better across their many environments and throughout their lives. A true System of Care focuses on 3 core values – it is family driven and youth guided; community based; and culturally and linguistically competent.
The System of Care approach is fundamentally focused on child and family - in which the needs of the youth and their family are the center of an ever-evolving ring of services and supports – both personal and professional. In being “youth guided” it is the child’s mental health that takes the front seat. Their return to mental wellbeing is the catalyst for the entire process. Families are no longer excluded from their child’s mental health care and its system or only allotted a partial view from the “cheap seats.” Instead, they are welcomed into the fold as full partners at all levels.
Families are given a voice - asked about their particular needs and, beyond that, their hopes, dreams, and ambitions. In turn, those desires are taken into honest account, not dismissed as frivolous, but focused on and tailored in a way that help families progress beyond their current challenge and – hopefully – used as a tool to face challenges that may arise in the future.
The family voice is also crucial to ensuring a successful System of Care. Families are encouraged to be vocal about obstacles they and their child have faced in the past. Speaking to all of these experiences helps the System of Care grow and ensures the best mental health care in our community.
For Okeechobee to have an effective System of Care, it is the care of the community – the youth and families therein – that matters most. By bringing together and supporting those agencies already which already exist in our community, families are offered a supportive base of services to meet their needs, all within the confines of their neighborhoods, schools and our community.
From this structure of a community-based system, family and youth-led organizations also evolve – allowing all community members, not just those in positions of leadership, a seat at the table when it comes to children’s mental health and wellbeing. Cultural and linguistic competence is incredibly important. Open-mindedness to culture should be expected at every level in a system of care – including the unique culture of each individual family.
The System of Care with our partners have created a Universal referral process, where any child in need of services can be referred on the one page form. Our staff will meet with parents and determine the best option for the referral and then complete the process with the family, to help have a seamless entry into needed services.
We also love to make presentations and offer information at community events to help bring awareness and reduce stigma toward mental illness.
Peer support groups for school aged children, are available each Thursday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. There is also Peer support for the big kids, ages 18-29 each month on the third Thursday, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. These meetings are held at Our Village Okeechobee, located at 1703 S.W. Second Ave.
The SOC in Okeechobee meets monthly on the fourth Tuesday, after the Community Collaborative Council (CCC) meeting. Both meetings are held at the Okeechobee County School Board meeting room, with the CCC meeting at 10 a.m. and System of Care at 11 a.m. At times, we offer training to the community the same day. The address for the school board office is 700 S.W. Second Ave. Then on the fourth Tuesday in the evenings from 6 to 7:30 pm, the System of Care offers Family Nights.
The Family Nights are something anyone can attend. Children are welcome too. We share a meal, then have a presentation for parents and activities for kids. These nights are FREE to attendees. They are held at Indian River State College, in the Williamson Conference Center. The college is located at 2229 N.W. Ninth Ave. Okeechobee, FL. Feel free to join us on Jan. 28 for a Conversation about Difficult Conversations you need to have with your children. This conversation will be facilitated by HCA trauma educator, Chinetta Neal. Grandparents – we’d love to have you too.
Make sure to “like” the Okeechobee Children’s Mental Wellness Facebook page, as we post daily inspirational quotes and relevant mental health information. For more information on any of these activities or information about the System of Care, please reach out to the site coordinator, Leah Suarez at 863-462-5000 ext. 1039.