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Erie Family Health Center and Metropolitan Family Services Evanston/Skokie Valley Center (Metropolitan) are partnering to offer Parenting Fundamentals, a culturally sensitive parenting curriculum, and also to expand behavioral health services to children and families at the Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center (Erie E/S), 1285 Hartrey Ave. in Evanston.   

“Erie is proud to offer integrated medical, dental, and behavioral health care for thousands of patients, regardless of ability to pay. This exciting partnership is one more example of how Erie Evanston/Skokie is a true medical home,” said Lisa Robinson, Director of Operations at Erie E/S, in a prepared statement.

Last year, Erie E/S served 6,500 patients, with 17,500 patient visits. About 86% of Erie E/S’s patient visits are with Medicaid patients and about 10% are uninsured. Almost 60% of its patients are from Evanston or Skokie Metropolitan provides services for children and youth who face serious emotional and behavioral disorders and mental illness. Last year it served 2,061 patients in the Evanston/Skokie Valley area.

Behavioral/Mental  Health Services for Children
Under the partnership, Metropolitan will provide behavioral health services to children, ages 3 to 18, who are patients of Erie E/S and who are on Medicaid.

 Metropolitan will have a behavioral health clinician, currently Jeremy Stern, present at Erie E/S on Wednesdays of each week, who will provide behavioral health services there. Children and their families who are patients of Erie E/S would also have the option of receiving behavioral health services at Metro’s offices in Evanston or Skokie.

“The great thing is he [Mr. Stern] is able to walk the clinic floor, meet the doctors, meet the families,” said Ms. Robinson. “Our doctor is able to go right over to him and say, ‘Hey, I have a family in the room, and we’re seeing some issues that are sparking concerns. Can I bring them in for a conversation with you?’ Our providers bring the patient over, and Jeremy is able to do an assessment with them, see what kind of services they need, and figure out what’s the best program for this patient and the family.”

 Barbara Dickinson, a nurse practitioner at Erie E/S who provides primary pediatric services, said if Mr. Stern is on site while she is conducting a patient visit, she might call him into the exam room if a child or youth needs behavioral health services. If Mr. Stern is not available, she asks the family to fill out a referral form and a consent to share patient information and she faxes that to Metropolitan, who then follows up with the family.

No one is forced to take behavior health services. “Our approach is to form a partnership with families in making their treatment plan,” said Ms. Dickinson. “We aren’t here to tell them what to do. We’re here to be a part of making changes in their lives to be healthier.”

Some of the behavior health issues Erie pediatricians have seen are cutting; stress or other issues resulting from bullying; dealing with the effects of parents going through a divorce; problems at school or at a home; and issues that stem from other medical histories, such as autism, said Ms. Robinson.

Ms. Dickinson said she has made referrals for children and youth experiencing major life stress, anxiety, and depression.

One issue that is being focused on by the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative and the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division is childhood trauma, which may result from physical or mental abuse, exposure to neighborhood violence, extreme poverty, and other things.

“The range of mental health services will be assessment, psychiatric consultation, case management to support the services for the family, and family therapy in connection with the treatment of a child,” said Fernando Freire, Director of Metropolitan.

When asked about providing treatment for trauma, Mr. Freire said Metropolitan was committed to providing informed treatment for patients who present trauma symptoms. “If a child is presenting the symptoms of trauma, our clinicians will be working with specific therapies or models based on how to help that child.”

If a family has a need for other services that Erie does not provide, such as assistance in obtaining housing or domestic violence counseling, “we try to provide a proper referral,” said Mr. Freire.

Starting in July, Erie E/S will have a psychiatrist on staff who will be at the health center two days a week. If Metropolitan’s behavioral health clinician feels a patient’s needs are more complex than he or she can handle, they will be able to refer that patient to the psychiatrist.

Both Erie E/S and Metropolitan believe the partnership provides significant advantages.

 “I think the role of a provider is to provide comprehensive holistic care to our patients, which basically entails treating the body, the mind, emotions,” said Ms. Dickinson. “Having someone on site really allows us to do that in the context of one visit. … In terms of comprehensive care, I love it.”

“I think it’s huge,” said Ms. Robinson. “If Metropolitan cannot help the patient, they have a network of organizations and partners and resources that they can send them to. So there’s always a warm hand-off going across the board. There’s never a stopping point and a dead end where we can’t do anything.”

  “When mental health providers are working closely with physical health providers, the treatment of that patient is much better because the physicians and the nurses become partners with the treatment team that is providing the mental health services,” said Mr. Freire.

“We have become more and more aware how important it is to provide

services for mental health issues. I think providing mental health and physical health issues under one roof is the wave of the future.

“We know we need to work closely with one another to maximize the services to our clients. It provides one entry point for clients to get all the needed medical and all the needed mental health needs that they may have,” Mr. Freire added.In January, Metropolitan Family Services began offering “Parenting Fundamentals” at Erie Evanston/Skokie Family Health Center (Erie E/S), 1285 Hartrey Ave. The program, which runs for two hours a day, one day a week for 10 weeks, gives parents tools to help their children develop and thrive, said Katharine Bensinger, Director of Parenting Fundamentals at Metropolitan Family Services, who developed the parenting program 20 years ago.

“Parenting skills are learned, not inherited,” said Ms. Bensinger. “It doesn’t matter if you are from Evanston or Englewood, every care-giver can benefit from best practices in parenting. … [Parenting Fundamentals] turns parents who unknowingly disable their children into parents who empower their children to reach far beyond their own heights.”

The plan is to offer the program four times a year at Erie, once for each of four age groups: 0-4, 4-8, 8-12 and 12-18. So far the program has been offered in Spanish at Erie, but if there is sufficient interest it can be offered in English there as well.

There is a separate curriculum for each age group. For the 0-4 year age group, “We really emphasize the importance of attachment and the importance of bonding through reading and playing with your child,” said Ms. Bensinger. “Child development is also a huge component. … We’re trying to promote healthy brain development, and that happens through nurturing parenting.”

The curriculum emphasizes the importance of reading to a child to develop a bond with the child and to promote literacy. “We know that when children learn to read on target they’re more likely to graduate from middle school, high school, and college,” said Ms. Bensinger.

The classes “provide tips on how to interact with a child while reading,” said Ms. Bensinger. With younger children, parents might ask the child to point to a color on a page of the book; as children get older, parents might ask children what they think about what was just read or what they think will happen next in a story.

Another aspect of the class advises parents on the importance of playing with a young child and how to use card games or board games to interact and bond with a child and to teach children to share, to take turns, and to control their emotions if they lose. Other classes for the 0-4 age group focus on how to read a baby’s cues, how to listen to children and encourage them, and how to discipline children without yelling at them and without using corporal punishment.

For ages 4-8, Parenting Fundamentals introduces parents to positive discipline strategies and communication strategies with their children. For ages 8-12 and 12-18, the curriculum focuses more heavily on communication strategies with children and also on discipline. As children get older, the curriculum focuses on how parents can help them become independent and how to manage the period during which a youth’s peers become increasingly important in their lives.

“We give really valuable communication skills to parents,” said Ms. Bensinger.

Ms. Bensinger said the program, which has served 7,000 parents since its inception, is culturally sensitive. “We have specific parenting strategies that we feel help parents nurture and educate their children to thrive,” she said. “But when parents come to the classes, they share how they parent their children in their culture, and that is embraced in the class.”

“Parents love the parenting program,” said Ms. Bensinger. “Parents are sharing that they took the program with other parents so they can benefit from it.”

Erie has also received positive feedback. “Some of the feedback I’ve received is it really helps parents strengthen their relationship with their child,” said Ms. Robinson. “It helps children do better in school, it’s helped with some preventative measures, making sure children aren’t prone to violence or using drugs, or not going down the wrong path.”

Ms. Robinson added that the Parent Fundamentals classes in some way form a support group. “Parents are meeting with parents who have some of the same issues and can talk with other parents about how they are handling and dealing with various issues,” she said. “A lot of them leave the group and they still have each other’s phone numbers and emails and still connect with each other to keep their relationship going.”

Metro also offers the program at its own offices and in partnership with the Childcare Center of Evanston.

Parenting Fundamentals will be offered in Spanish at Erie Family Health Center, 1285 Hartrey Ave., Evanston, from 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays, July 14 – Sept. 1. This session will target parents of children 0-8.

The program will be offered in English at Metropolitan Family Services, 820 Davis St., from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, July 12–Aug. 30. This session will also target parents of children 0-8.

To register call the program’s central intake number, 773-884-2290.

Importance of Addressing Mental Health Issues Early

“The scientific evidence is clear: Significant mental health problems can and do occur in young children. In some cases, these problems can have serious consequences for early learning, social competence, and even lifelong health,” says a report, “Establishing a Level Foundation for Life: Mental Health Begins in Early Childhood” (2012), by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.

“Early mental health problems merit attention because they disrupt the typical patterns of developing brain architecture and impair emerging capacities for learning and relating to others. And regardless of the origin of mental health concerns, new research clearly indicates that early intervention can have a positive impact on the trajectory of common emotional or behavioral problems as well as outcomes for children with serious disorders.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...