History and Next Steps
The From the Heart Fund (FTHF) was formed in October 2018 by a group of Bay City High School graduates in order to support families and schools within Matagorda County as they recovered from the material and emotional devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey. The From the Heart Fund had two key points in its original mission statement:
1. provide support for trauma-informed mental health services to children in all of Matagorda County’s schools and trauma-informed education for County families.
2. collect and distribute emergency funds to individual families in Matagorda County who need economic support as they rebuild their lives and homes.
In April 2018, the IRS granted 501(C)(3) not-for-profit status to the organization, retroactive to its incorporation in October 2017.
Financial support of families. A portion of contributed funds were used to provide direct funding to families in Matagorda County. This was a remarkable experience; the stories we heard made the hurricane’s damage to Matagorda County’s families real: the family in the Buffalo Bayou Creek area whose home was completely destroyed, and nine months later they still had no place to live; the elderly couple who continue to live in their tool shed because that was the only structure that survived the hurricane; the numerous families who paid contractors to do repairs but lost all that money when the contractors fled the County without providing any of the promised work; the many families who were living in partially repaired homes because they had run out of money to finish the work on their house. The From the Heart Fund continued to provide financial support to these families as we found them.
Outreach to families was implemented through newspaper articles, direct emails, and posters distributed through the Sherriff’s office, the police department, local businesses, and post offices. Through website nominations (www.matagordaheart.org) 180 families were nominated and completed the intake and interview process. Of these families, 44 were turned down for funding and 136 families received funds, ranging from $250 to $5,000 each, depending on need. In total, the From the Heart Fund distributed $200,933 directly to families. Within the recipient families, there were 241 adults and 171 children, representing all corners of the County:
Number of Families funded
Mental health services for the schools. From the beginning the FTHF provided support to the schools, training teachers, counselors and other school personnel in recognizing students affected by the trauma of the hurricane and providing basic support to them. We conducted Town Hall meetings to educate the general public on how trauma affects children and teens. We also have provided free mental health clinics, open to the public.
Unfortunately, through our work in the County, we found a glaring deficiency in mental health services for students. Teachers and counselors reported heightened trauma-related behavioral problems through the school year, which came on top of the chronic trauma many of the students were suffering due to poverty, community violence, and multiple other factors that put so many of the students at high risk. These problems have escalated with the recent school shootings, especially the one in Santa Fe, Texas, a rural community in relative proximity to Matagorda County and of similar demographic makeup. In addition, in the last year, two students in Matagorda County’s high schools have committed suicide.
Because of the high-risk status of so many students in Matagorda County and the lack of adequate mental health services in the communities, the From the Heart Fund is pleased to announce that we will be expanding on the basic work we have done in the schools and will be launching the development of a behavioral health system of care to be incorporated into all five school districts in Matagorda County. The Community Partnership for Student Well-being seeks to support and enhance students’ behavioral health so as to substantially reduce risk for violence in schools and self-harm among students.
In brief, the system of care will operate at four levels of intervention:
Tier 1 – All children grades 1 through 12 receive Tier 1 interventions through universal screening for behavioral health problems. We will use the Pediatric Symptom Checklist-17, a validated and evidence-based screening tool that identifies internalizing, externalizing and attention problems in children and teens. Tier 1 is grounded in professional education for all school personnel that addresses children’s behavioral health, including reducing the stigma associated with mental health difficulties. We also will conduct a series of Town Hall meetings to introduce the system to community families. This approach is successful in identifying those students who need extra attention from teachers in the classroom to help those students feel more included and supported. Research has shown that this simplest level of intervention addresses the needs of 80% of students.
Tier 2 – Based on universal screening, children identified as “at risk” via a positive screen and for whom Tier 1 interventions are not supportive enough receive Tier II early intervention. These interventions will be delivered via groups conducted by school counselors or other appropriate staff and will successfully address the needs of another 10% of students. We will train school counselors in conducting these group interventions.
Tier 3 – Children who are not making adequate progress through Tier 2 interventions or children whose family environment cannot support positive behavioral and mental health development will move into Tier 3 interventions. Tier 3 interventions are grounded in targeted assessments and address areas of deficit through school-based counselors and community-based group interventions, parenting education and support, and school-based intensive instruction, specific to the child’s area(s) of need. School counselors will be trained in these individualized approaches to children’s mental health needs, successfully intervening in approximately 6%.
Tier 4 – The remaining 4% of children who are not making adequate progress through Tier 3 interventions or children with complex needs, including those whose family environment does not function in a way to promote healthy development, will be considered for referral to higher levels of treatment, at this time available only in Houston or other large metropolitan areas. It is our hope to fund positions for 5 licensed therapists to serve within the school systems but for now, that is only a distant dream.
The primary barrier to the development of this system of prevention and intervention is the lack of a social worker/therapist within the schools. The Board of Directors has committed to raising funds to cover the salaries and benefits of hiring 4 licensed clinical therapists to serve the five school districts in Matagorda County. Funding will be provided through a cooperative agreement with each of the school districts that would allow the districts to hire and supervise the school-based therapists but FTHF would have access to feedback and information to evaluate the use of the funds. To accomplish this, we have set a fund-raising goal of $350,000 for 2019.
The Community Partnership for Student Well-being is a systems approach that identifies the highest risk populations, especially those children and teens who are feeling isolated and depressed, and it can be a successful approach to preventing suicide and school violence. In today’s world, with the pressures and anxieties that children and teens are experiencing on a daily basis, the From the Heart Fund feels it can make a difference.