School officials and health care professionals joined lawmakers at the state capitol on Thursday, touting the importance of early mental health care intervention for kids. It's a cause that's gotten increased attention since the school shooting in Newtown.
Tracy Ceravone adopted her youngest son, Trevor, when he was about two years old. She said he was born severely addicted. When he entered the Irving School in Derby, "It was a tough year for us a family," Ceravone said. "He struggled severely -- academically, in school, as well as socially. I honestly did not feel he was going to pass the first grade. Right about this time, the teachers had received questionnaires from Valley Kids Belong."
Valley Kids Belong is one of two early intervention programs sponsored by the Connecticut Health Foundation. It serves kids in the lower Naugatuck Valley. The other, iCare, which serves Middletown, began in 2009.
Combined, the programs have served more than 3,400 young children, assessing their mental health and, if needed, offering a variety of services -- everything from after-school judo and music classes, to free clinical assessments.
Abby Anderson, Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said, "One of the real dangers around this work is we do a lot of piloting. We have a lot of initiatives in the state that we know work, or work well on a small scale, and we never scale them up."
Officials said this is the last year of a five-year, $10 million commitment from the Connecticut Health Foundation. That's part of the reason why they're getting the word out about both programs.
Ceravone said early intervention worked for her family, and for Trevor. "As a parent," she said, "I cannot highly recommend Valley Kids Belong any more than I can. There's not enough words. He's still struggling in reading. I will tell you that. It's a challenge, but in all his other classes, he's succeeded. He's getting As for the first time."
Advocates have said they hope the success of iCare and Valley Kids Belong will help them attract new potential funders, and eventually scale the program up to other communities across Connecticut.