AUCD’s National Center on Disability in Public Health continues its work with the Children’s Mental Health Champions project for a second year. This project is made possible through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Supporting the mental health needs of children starts early in childhood and can have lifelong impacts on overall health and wellbeing. AUCD/CDC’s Children’s Mental Health Champions focus on creating partnerships, identifying concerns, intervening early, and promoting children’s mental health by working with prevention programs in different settings. Building on the efforts of the year one Champions, 2020-2021, twelve Champions were selected for 2021-2022 to continue to provide timely support for children and their families. The Champions developed state-specific work plans to implement effective strategies for mental health promotion, prevention supports, and the creation of networks (e.g., school, healthcare, and community) to promote better connections between these systems. The 2021-2022 Champions represent American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and South Dakota.
The summaries below include information on the 2021-2022 Children’s Mental Health Champions. Learn more about their projects highlighted during Mental Health Awareness Month of May 2022. To learn more about the Children’s Mental Health Champions project, please contact: Jordan Kerr, BSPH, Program Specialist, Public Health.
2020-2021 Children’s Mental Health Champions
American Samoa: Jean Anderson, Pacific Basin University Center on Excellence for Developmental Disabilities/American Samoa UCEDD
Champion: Jean Anderson
Dr. Jean Anderson is a Clinical Psychologist. She has worked as the mental health consultant for the American Samoa Head Start/Early Childhood Education program for almost 15 years. Dr. Anderson previously served as the Part C Coordinator for American Samoa and was instrumental in redesigning the system of early intervention services for American Samoa. Dr. Anderson also provides consultative and mental health services for the American Samoa Special Education program.
Project Summary: More to come
California: Jazmin Burns: The Northern California LEND Project at the UC Davis MIND Institute
Champion: Jazmin Burns
Dr. Jazmin Burns began her work in the field of Psychology as an in-home Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) behavioral therapist, as well as serving as a Research Assistant (RA) at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Dr. Burns’ love and passion for working with families with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDDs) grew and she quickly realized she wanted to become a Clinical Psychologist. Dr. Burns graduated from UC Davis with her BA in English and minored in Psychology in 2013 and received her PsyD in Clinical Psychology in May 2019. In November 2021, Dr. Burns moved to San Antonio, TX where she created and leads the first Psychology and Diagnostic Department and clinic for Empower Behavioral Health and serves as the Senior Clinical Psychologist for that company. Dr. Burns is excited to serve families in Texas where autism and mental health resources are lacking compared to other states. During her time at the MIND Institute, Dr. Burns became involved with the Sankofa group, a support group for families raising Black children with disabilities. Although now living in Texas, she continues serving as one of Sankofa’s co-facilitators. Sankofa’s goal is to empower parents to become strong advocates for the needs of their children. By supporting parents/caregivers in their journey to bring resources to their children, Sankofa is simultaneously supporting infant/child mental health development. Dr. Burns’ love and passion for this group grew, so when afforded the opportunity to be one of the two CA Children’s Mental Health Champions, she knew this would be an opportunity to continue to grow Sankofa to help even more families, not just in the Sacramento region, but across the country.
Project Summary: The goal of the Sankofa group this year was to continue to increase Black families’ knowledge and utilization of mental health and other resources (e.g., school, advocacy, etc.) and create partnerships and relationships by creating opportunities for dialogue between the Black community and mental health and community professionals. The following plans have been worked on this year: 1) Continue to expand Sankofa regionally, nationally, and internationally, 2) Continue to create layers of programming so that Sankofa is meeting the needs of families in multiple ways (i.e., programs set just for training— IEP Workshops, Advocacy Workshops, Mental Health workshops, etc.), and 3) Create promotional videos/reels to educate others about Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as promote Sankofa to reach more parents. During this year, Sankofa has expanded its presence to five states. Dr. Burns also continues to update Sankofa’s first official website, Sankofa Facebook group and page so families and community partners can share resources with one another. Additionally, Sankofa continues to bring in and support trainees who are seeking to work with members of the BIPOC community. Local and national speakers continue to be invited to speak to Sankofa families about NDD evaluations, trauma, hiring more Black staff within the healthcare system, as well as creating more mental health training opportunities for minorities. Sankofa has many more plans for the distant future! Professionals can work with Sankofa or become part of their National Family Response Directory
California: Micah Orliss, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Champion: Micah Orliss
Micah Orliss, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Orliss specializes in trauma psychology, working primarily with youth in the foster care system. Dr. Orliss is the developer of the CHLA Safe Surrender Clinic, the first clinic dedicated specifically to addressing the unique needs of infants who were placed in the Safe Surrender program. Dr. Orliss is also an agency mentor for the Incredible Years program, leading trainings nationally and internationally for other clinicians.
Project Summary: Dr. Orliss is building of his work as a member of the 2020-2021 cohort to expand on two projects related to early childhood mental health. The first focuses on expanding the reach of the CHLA Safe Surrender Clinic, the first clinic of its kind dedicated to providing evaluation and guidance for children who were placed in California’s Safe Surrender program at birth. Dr. Orliss has compiled a formal set of informational materials to provide to foster/adoptive parents of Safe Surrender infants. These materials are also available for other providers and Dr. Orliss has focused on networking and expanding awareness of the CHLA Safe Surrender Clinic with other key stakeholders around the state. The second part of Dr. Orliss’s project involves expanding the Incredible Years program in Southern California in order to provide necessary evidence-based practices to address the mental health needs of children emerging from the pandemic. In particular, Dr. Orliss is working to bring these services to new settings in order to reach more children, including schools and Head Start sites.
Colorado: Judy Reaven, JFK Partners, University of Colorado School of Medicine/Children’s Hospital Colorado
Champion: Judy Reaven
Judy Reaven, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She is the Associate Director and Director of Research at JFK Partners, the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in Colorado. Clinical and research interests include identifying and treating psychiatric symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as the implementation of evidence-based treatments in community settings. She is the primary developer of a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) group intervention for anxiety in youth with ASD (Facing Your Fears- FYF). She has been PI on many federal/foundation grants and has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed publications and book chapters, many related to the co-occurrence of anxiety disorders in ASD.
Project Summary: Autistic youth are at high risk for developing mental health conditions, particularly compared to neurotypical youth and youth with other Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Unfortunately, the need for evidence-based mental health exceeds the availability of trained providers. Schools may be the ideal location for autistic students to receive mental health care. Additionally, family members are desperate for practical information regarding the mental health of their autistic children. In light of the significant need for care, two main objectives were developed: 1) Create a website that provides information for families regarding the mental health needs of children and teens with ASD; and 2) Conduct a series of trainings for school districts/school personnel on topics related to identifying and treating mental health conditions in autistic youth. Project activities included connecting with school districts and identifying topics of interest prior to designing the presentations. The website development occurred in collaboration with a LEND trainee, stakeholders and UCEDD Dissemination Director. Accomplishments to date include conducting six trainings on identifying and managing mental health conditions in autistic students. Website development is nearly complete; multiple iterations of the content have been developed and feedback from stakeholders on the content has been obtained. It is anticipated that the website will be available by mid-May 2022.
Connecticut: Bethanne Vergean, University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
Champion: Bethanne Vergean
Bethanne Vergean graduate from Quinnipiac University and St. Joseph College. Her career in Early Childhood began while working at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Head Start to support children’s health and wellness, focusing on children with special needs and medically fragile children. Bethanne joined the University of Connecticut, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCONN UCEDD) in 2013 to provide professional development and technical assistance throughout Connecticut. Her areas of professional development interest include inclusion, autism, social and emotional curriculum, and medically fragile children. Bethanne also worked as part of several community outreach and mentor coaching grants within early childhood programs. She currently provides training and technical assistance for early childhood systems.
In March 2019, Bethanne was selected to be the Connecticut Act Early Ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Act Early is a national campaign aiming to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. In August 2021, Bethanne was selected to represent Connecticut for a 2nd year as the Children’s Mental Health Champion for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Project Summary: Within this 2nd year of funding, UConn UCEDD collaborated with Connecticut Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to develop mental health resources for families across the state. Children have faced almost two years of unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic. Connecticut Children’s has seen a tremendous increase in patients seeking behavioral health services via the emergency department. In 2021, 12.6% of children ages 3-17 in Connecticut received mental health care; compared to the national average of 10.8%. Currently we do not see a decline in families seeking care which has put a strain on the healthcare system causing delays in services.
To address the growing need, the General Assembly’s Committee on Children championed Public Act 21-116 . The act requires a list of (A) providers of such resources, including, but not limited to, mobile crisis intervention services, (B) the physical location of each provider, if applicable, (C) the types of services offered by each provider, and (D) contact information for each provider to be given to all families in healthcare and school settings. The free resources developed by the UConn UCEDD and Connecticut Children’s
Georgia: Emily C. Graybill Center for Leadership in Disability, Georgia State University, UCEDD
Emily Graybill is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. She is also the Director of the Center for Leadership in Disability and the Program Director for the HRSA-funded Maternal and Child Health Graduate Certificate (MCHGC) program. Her specific interests include infant and early childhood mental health, school mental health, universal behavior screening in schools, individualized positive behavior support in early childhood and schools, and evaluating the implementation and sustainability of initiatives for underserved populations, including children with disabilities. Dr. Graybill is the principal investigator on an OSEP-funded interdisciplinary early intervention training program at GSU for students in the physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology programs. Dr. Graybill also serves as the Director of Georgia’s HRSA-funded Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program.
Project Summary: Emily’s Children’s Mental Health Champion project focused on expanding and improving childhood mental health services and supports. The mission of Georgia Association for Infant Mental Health: Birth to Five (GA-AIMH) is to promote family, infant, and early childhood mental health (IECMH) as foundational to development by: raising awareness of young children’s social and emotional needs; building culturally responsive preventive and therapeutic professional capacities; fostering interdisciplinary and cross-system collaboration by supporting professionals working with and on behalf of infants, young children, and their families; and advocating for and supporting policies in the best interest of infants, young children, families, and communities.
Kentucky: Mary Howard, Human Development Institute (HDI), University of Kentucky, UCEDD
Champion: Mary Howard
Mary Howard is the Division Director for Early Childhood at the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, Kentucky’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Mary’s professional work has included working with state and national partners to support quality early childhood experiences for all young children. She has experience at the state level working in the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Kentucky Department of Education as well as experience working directly with families and children through home-based early intervention and teaching in a preschool program. In her current position, much of Mary’s time is devoted to her role as the Director of Child Care Aware of KY, Kentucky’s Child Care, and Resource and Referral Agency.
Project Summary: The work of Kentucky’s Early Childhood Mental Health Champion this year has focused on establishing, maintaining, and increasing collaborations to strengthen mental health resources and supports for child care providers. The goal of this work has been a focus on promoting the resiliency skills of early learning and care staff so that they can better support the needs of the children and the families they serve. This has included working closely with Kentucky’s Early Childhood Mental Health director to promote training and technical assistance for professionals in the field of early childhood. This project has also allowed for strong connections and cross-over work with Kentucky’s Learn the Signs Act Early Ambassador through continued funding of the 2020 Act Early State Team COVID-19 Response Initiative.
In collaboration with the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute, Mary has worked to develop three free modules based on Family Interaction Training (FIT), an evidence-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) course. These modules have been adapted for use by early care and learning professionals and look at how to apply these principles in your child care settings. They also provide an overview of how to work with families on each of the strategies.
Additional modules are available that explore the negative impact of external transitions, children moving from one child care setting to another. While there are many reasons children may have to change care settings, a reason too often given is that the setting does not have the resources to support challenging behaviors. These modules explore the negative impacts of external transitions and ways to help prevent challenging behaviors from happening in the first place.
Maine: Jennifer Maeverde, University of Maine: Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies, UCEDD
Champion: Jennifer Maeverde
Jennifer Maeverde, MA, LCPC, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Maine with over 20 years of experience working with children and families in a variety of mental health settings, including psychiatric institutions, mental health agencies, and private practice. In her role at the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies, Maine’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (CCIDS UCEDD), she provides mental health consultation to early childhood and out of school time professionals throughout Maine. Jennifer is also a faculty member in the partnership between CCIDS and the University of New Hampshire LEND program. In that role, she coordinates clinical experiences and placements for trainees as well as provides faculty mentoring. In addition, she is the lead in Maine for the Project SCOPE grant their LEND program received in 2020. She was a LEND trainee from 2012-2013. Some of Jennifer’s areas of expertise include: social-emotional development, attachment, temperament, sensory processing-regulation, early childhood mental health disorders and treatments, trauma-informed care and systems, and culturally and linguistically sensitive and responsive leadership.
Project Summary: More to come
Montana: Dr. Anna-Margaret Goldman, University of Montana, Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities, UCEDD
Champion: Anna-Margaret Goldman
Dr. Anna-Margaret Goldman graduated from Miami University of Ohio in Organizational Communication. Following college, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and continued her work as a Youth Development Coordinator for The Flagship Program in Missoula, Montana. Anna-Margaret received her Master’s degree and her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration at The University of Alabama. During this time, she worked with the Center for Service and Leadership to help run a school-based mentoring program. From 2016-2020, she directed MonTECH, Montana’s State Assistive Technology Program at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at University of Montana. She is a graduate of Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurological Disabilities (URLEND) and the Georgetown Leadership Academy programs. She is currently the Director of TRIO Upward Bound at University of Montana.
Project Summary: As the CMH Champion in Montana, this project focused on problem-solving around the lack of resources around children’s mental health crises in Montana. A group of stakeholders formed and planned a panel on Children’s Mental Health Care in Montana for Children’s Mental Health week to have a conversation around what services exist and challenges around gaps in services. Two of the stakeholders, The MT Empowerment Center and the MT Family to Family Health Information Center, gathered questions from families whose children have experienced mental health challenges and crises to be answered by a panel of mental health experts, providers, and leaders knowledgeable about insurance coverage in Montana. The information from this conversation will lead to next steps: a way for providers to problem solve based on families’ experience through Project ECHO followed by educating Crisis Intervention Teams on the need to include children in their crisis response efforts.
New Mexico: Julia Oppenheimer, University of New Mexico Center for Development Disability, UCEDD
Champion: Julia Oppenheimer
Julia Oppenheimer, PhD, IMH-E (III) is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor at the Center for Development & Disability in the Department of Pediatrics at University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. She completed her doctorate at the University of Oregon and trained at the University of New Mexico, with specialization in early childhood development and Infant Mental Health. She serves as the Director for Early Childhood Clinical Services, overseeing Infant Mental Health and Early Childhood Evaluation programs. Her areas of interest include Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, early childhood assessment, treatment, and consultation, and the impact of trauma in early childhood.
Project Summary: Addressing Early Childhood Mental Health and Development through Increased Access to Trauma-Informed Care and Consultation: Building Partnerships and Novel Consultation Services. This project aims to increase access to behavioral health supports for young children in New Mexico through early childhood mental health consultation and workforce training. In our largely rural and under-resourced state, we have a dearth of trained therapists, counselors, and psychologists and high acuity of mental health needs in children throughout the state. As a Children’s Mental Health Champion, Dr. Oppenheimer has aimed to develop consultation and training programs for first-line providers working with families and young children. Through this CMHC project, Dr. Oppenheimer has developed several programs to provide early childhood behavioral health and developmental consultation. These include (1) a monthly consultation and training program in partnership with the NM Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) for Early Intervention providers in New Mexico; (2) the New Mexico Access to Behavioral Health for Children (NM-ABC), an ECHO-model-based program providing consultation and training to pediatric/family practice providers across New Mexico (partnership and funding provided by the HRSA Maternal Child Health Bureau and the New Mexico Department of Health Title V Office); and (3) integrated consultative services within existing birth-to-5 clinic in the UNM Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Oppenheimer is additionally completing her Certificate in Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation program at Georgetown University, School of Continuing Education.
New Hampshire: JoAnne Malloy, Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
JoAnne MAlloy, Ph.D., MSW, Research Associate Professor, Institute on Disability, University of New Hampshire. Dr. Malloy began working at the UCED in New Hampshire in 1992 and is a nationally recognized expert in the field of adolescent mental health with expertise in school-to-career transition services for youth with emotional and behavioral disorders, school-based mental health services, dropout prevention, and family- and youth-driven wraparound. Dr. Malloy has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and teaches in the UNH Social Work Department.
Project Summary: More to come
South Dakota: Tova Hartle, Center for Disabilities, University of South Dakota/Sanford School of Medicine
Champion: Tova Hartle
Tova Hartle, MS, Ed.S, is a Training and Technical Assistance Specialist with the University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities, Instructor with the Sanford School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, and Adjunct Graduate Faculty for the University of South Dakota Department of Curriculum and Instruction. As a licensed K-12 School Counselor, Tova specializes in mental health support and care for children and adolescents, their families, and educators. Presently in her role at the Center, Tova works to support school professionals throughout the state by providing training opportunities in topics on student mental health, teaching through the trauma-informed lens, restorative justice, and implementation of social and emotional learning practices.
Project Summary: The University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities serves as the host for training activities targeted to PreK-12 educators with the goal of enhancing overall knowledge and improvement of best practices as it relates to ACEs awareness, social-emotional learning, and student mental health. The training specialist currently works in collaboration with the South Dakota Department of Education to provide online and in-person instruction addressing effective mental health intervention and implementation of school-wide trauma-informed practices. Goals are to reach populations in underserved rural, frontier, and tribal communities to ensure all have equitable access and resources for mental health supports, training opportunities, and suicide prevention. Additional measures involve working in partnership with the South Dakota Department of Health, Office of Child and Family Services to assist in developing and disseminating equitable and accessible Suicide Prevention education material, including a 4-part suicide prevention video series, the Text4Hope statewide resource, and messaging in accordance with the SD DOH Adolescent Health/Mental Health/Suicide Prevention workgroup target goals.
The Children’s Mental Health Champions are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through a cooperative agreement (OT18-1802) with AUCD. The contents of this webpage does not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC/HHS or the US Government.