Inside a health clinic more than 1,000 miles away from Lincoln County, child psychologist Rahil Briggs screens children as young as six months of age for mental health concerns.
“If a baby feels safe, a baby will explore, and if a baby explores, a baby will learn,” said Dr. Briggs. “I don’t want to wait until a child has missed five days of school because his anxiety is so bad that he can’t get on the school bus. That to me is a red flag. I want to see pink flags.”
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that mental health challenges and disorders affect up to one in five children each year, health care professionals are advocating for earlier screenings and greater access to prevention and early intervention programs.
The need for earlier screenings and interventions prompted a group of local citizens to form the Lincoln County Early Childhood Taskforce. Taskforce members, who include past and current educators, nurses, social workers, mental and developmental health specialists, child care workers, and parents, work collectively to educate and empower parents and to ensure kids are properly screened and connected to resources.
Considering that prenatal stress has been found to alter the baby’s brain structure and function, task-force members believe pregnancy is the most critical time to educate and empower parents. The members are focused on serving children aged 0-five and their caregivers to help prevent mental health crises that can deter learning, alter behaviors and add stress to the home and school environments.
“This year, the Lincoln County Resource Board (LCRB) approved more than $1.2 million in funding for local children’s mental health services,” said Cheri Winchester, LCRB director and Early Childhood Taskforce member. “In Lincoln County, like most other communities across Missouri and the U.S., mental health needs are outpacing funding. By working together to reach our children and parents earlier, our hope is that we can keep kids healthy so that they can learn, socialize and become productive and healthy adults.”
Since the task force’s establishment, members have met with local health care providers to create awareness of mental health and early childhood resources for caregiver referrals. Taskforce members also are working to help train and support local preschool and daycares to enhance awareness of emotional and mental health needs, encourage positive discipline and provide needed support to caregivers.
Most recently, the Early Childhood Taskforce held a “Mother’s Pampering Event” to give back to local moms and demonstrate the importance of self-care. The event, held at First Christian Church and First Step Preschool, provided complimentary services including massage therapy by Kathy Himmel, Winchester Spine & Sport; mini-facials and makeup consultations by Abby Benz, independent beauty consultant with Mary Kay; and nail polishing courtesy of Sasha Vandeven with the Lincoln County Health Department. Rhonda Davis with Tiers of Love provided desserts for our moms.
“We want moms and caregivers to know that their community cares about them and their children,” said taskforce member Chari Bender, Nurses for Newborns. “When we can provide parents with the education and resources they need to be successful, they are better able to understand and meet their babies’ cues, which have long-term impacts on academic, emotional and social skills.”
Early Childhood Taskforce members currently include representatives from the Lincoln County Health Department, Lincoln County Resource Board, Crider Health Center, The Child Center, Crisis Nursery Wentzville, Nurses for Newborns, Children’s Division, Early Childhood Education Center, First Steps Preschool, F.A.C.T., Love N’ Learn and Youth in Need.
To learn more about the taskforce or to join the group, contact Cheri Winchester at the Lincoln County Resource Board 636-528-2490.