Agencies across Fresno County came together on Friday to launch a school-based mental health program to help children who suffer trauma and other life-changing experiences.
“Our community has seen rising levels of violence, tragedy and trauma,” said Brian Pacheco, chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. “This program, Handle with Care Plus, offers children 4 to 11 years old and their families faster access to services through their schools.”
Said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama: ” (Trauma) is happening in our community every single day, and we have to have an avenue to address these problems.”
Handle with Care Plus is a three-year, $1.5 million initiative funded under the Mental Health Services Act and through the Innovation Component by the Fresno County Department of Public Health.
How Will It Help Families and Children?
To start, the mental health project will launch pilot programs in four Fresno elementary schools. Teaming up are the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, Fresno Unified School District, The Fresno Police Chaplaincy’s Resiliency Center, UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, and Brain Wise Solutions.
Lowell, Heaton, Del Mar, and Pyle elementary schools are the pilot sites that will activate timely responses to children and their families after a traumatic or stressful life event.
The program will also help provide early support, screenings, and assessment in children for early indications of mental health symptoms resulting from trauma.
The chaplaincy will be in charge of identifying service calls in the neighborhoods around the four schools in real-time and reviewing them to identify which calls may have been life-impacting.
Yovino: Potential to Make a Huge Difference
Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino said partnerships like this make a huge difference in schools.
“This is why I’m so excited to be partnering with our public health folks, but also with our police chief and the resiliency program and the chaplaincy program,” said Yovino. “All of the things that we have grown to love in our community to help us so that when that child shows up, they will be identified and our folks on our campuses will know. ”
“Everyone hurting in this city reaches to the Fresno police department for that first request of help,” said Lowery. “Imagine a new paradigm in handling these calls and working alongside key partners to address the hurdle and promote a healing hope and public safety reform through a lens of opportunity instead of liability.”
Police Chief Has Personal Connection To Program
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama was pleased to give his full support to the program after being one of the first to help implement it in the state of Oklahoma, where he was a former deputy chief.
“The OKC Police Department was the very first agency to bring Handle With Care to the region,” said Balderrama. “As police officers, we have a front-row seat to the trauma that our kids experience in this community.”
Balderrama says Fresno PD receives almost a million 9-1-1 calls in their Communications Center annually and responds to more than half.
“Every month we get 650 new cases of domestic violence. Half of those involved children who witnessed the crime. We also receive about 50 sexual assault cases every month, with 60% of the victims being children,” said Balderrama.
While children are resilient and can bounce back, Balderrama says they need the proper help and support.
He says he believes in the program and hopes that by offering these services, children will not turn to lives of crime and drugs.
“We know what the statistics show, that many of them become involved in the criminal justice system, they become involved in drugs, they go to prison, they don’t finish high school, they don’t finish their education and their lives are broken,” said Balderrama. “If we give them the right help through this partnership, they can become more resilient than ever and become a success.”
Prop 63 Aims to Close Mental Health Gap
Fresno County’s interim director of behavioral health, Susan Holt said the program came about after receiving a small bucket of funding from the Mental Health Services Act.
The act passed by California voters in 2004 under Proposition 63 to help address a broad continuum of prevention, early intervention, and other services needed in the community through necessary infrastructure that can help transform the behavioral health system.
“We are committed to becoming a more trauma-informed and trauma-responsive delivery system and community,” said Holt. “This allows county behavioral health departments like ours to test new strategies to support our community.”