“How are the children?” This is the traditional greeting the Maasai people of Africa still use. This greeting emphasizes their priority of protecting the young. How the children are is a reflection of the community. If the children are doing well, then the community is doing well.
Many factors contribute to children doing well. Children need to be healthy, not only physically, but emotionally. One in every five children has a mental health challenge that can affect their overall well-being. The earlier children get support, the better chance they have for emotional wellness. Our children need our vigilance with this issue, as most mental health needs start in childhood. However, keep in mind that some mental health challenges begin in young adulthood, so we need to continue our vigilance even after our children are 18 years old.
Emotional health impacts every aspect of a child’s life, including school, family relationships, friendships, and feelings of self-worth. By identifying emotional issues early, children can get the help they need and be more likely to have a successful life. We need to keep asking, “How are the children?”
Many children who have a mental health challenge do not receive the support they need. Massachusetts General Hospital reports that only 30%-50% of children with significant mental health issues are recognized as needing help by their primary doctor, and only a small percent are referred for mental health services.
Thanks to state and local grants, we are able to provide free social-emotional screenings to all children in Cortland County through the Early Recognition Screening project. The screening forms will be distributed throughout local schools and some physician offices. The screening is a simple checklist and a snapshot of a child’s emotional health, which can indicate that a child may benefit from services or further evaluation.
The Early Recognition Screening (ERS) project is voluntary and confidential. Parents complete a checklist called the Pediatric Symptom Checklist and mail it to the ERS coordinator, who then contacts them about the results. Parents then decide what is right for their child and whether or not to seek further mental health resources. The coordinator will offer support in finding resources in the community.
“How are the children?” This shows the value we place on our children and the importance of the care we give them.
The Early Recognition Screening project is based at Family Counseling Services. For more information, call ERS Coordinator Sue Marks at 753-0234, extension 102, or 749-0013. She can answer any questions about the screening program and discuss resources and mental health services in the community.