Children's Mental Health Services Research

Community-Based Child and Family Mental Health Services Research
Faculty: Marc Atkins, Ane Maríñez-Lora, Tara Mehta, Dana Rusch


Our mental health services research team at IJR works to identify new service models to address the needs of families living in urban poverty. This emphasizes the importance of integrating mental health with the goals of settings that families naturally access (such as schools) and strengthening the ways that people in these settings (such as teachers and parents) can support increasing numbers of youth and families in needWe provide summaries below of selected projects to highlight our team’s work and encourage you to visit our website to learn more about work we do: we-are/

Center for Clinical and Translation Science (CCTS): In August 2016, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) at UIC was awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health. For more details:  Dr. Atkins is Director of Dissemination and Implementation Research and Policy as part of the Community Engagement Core of the CCTS (Is this correct in the current grant language?).  The mission is to foster unique university-community-policy partnerships to promote the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based health programs and services. Drawing on theories of organizational and community context to promote effective and sustainable health policies and practices, we will target our programs and services to UIC research investigators, educational & community organizations and key policy stakeholders to improve the health of the community, with a special focus on effective health services for urban youth.  The CCTS provides opportunities for interns to learn more about how clinical and translational health research and how our team participates in ongoing collaboration with other local university CCTS hubs to promote innovative community-engaged science in the Chicagoland area. 
Roles for Interns:

  • Participation in ongoing CCTS meetings
  • Participation in grant preparation and consultation services related to Dissemination and Implementation Science
  • Learn about our team’s ongoing collaboration with community and policy stakeholders to identify  behavioral health indicators for youth (e.g., Chicago Department of Health, Mile Square Federally Qualified Health Center, Chicago Public Schools)

Prevention and Early Intervention Services Research: Our team has also served in a collaborative consultative role with community social service agencies in the development and implementation of two privately-funded service projects: Partners Achieving School Success (PASS) and Building Family Foundations (BFF).  Both programs were developed to examine the role of a community-based paraprofessional workforce in mental health services.
PASS is a school based mental health prevention and early intervention program for children in pre-kindergarten through third grade.  Our team is collaborating with four social service agencies on a school-based prevention and early intervention program for youth in K-3rd grade  living in impoverished communities in Chicago (approximately n=700).  PASS services focus on six key skills related to positive parenting and how to support children’s learning.  These services are delivered by non-traditional providers called School-Family Liaisons (SFLs) who are supervised by mental health clinicians.  BFF is a prenatal to early childhood home-visiting program to support first-time Latino and African American young mothers in their transition to motherhood and adulthood.  BFF services focus on strengthening mothers’ ability to use positive parenting strategies and to support their children’s development and school readiness.  Once again, services are primarily delivered by highly trained paraprofessionals called Family Coaches who are supervised by mental health clinicians.  Programmatic work focused on the adaptation of Family Spirit-a strength-based empirically supported paraprofessional home visiting program developed for Native Americans- to our urban, Latino and African American parent population.    
Roles for Interns on PASS and BFF:

  • Gain experience and exposure to the role of the paraprofessional workforce
  • Secondary data analysis
  • Grant preparation for future service model implementation
  • Assist in qualitative data coding and analysis of small pilot study data
  • Possibility for consultation with community partners and ongoing evaluation

Leaders at Play: Our team has been collaborating with the Chicago Park District for the past decade to develop and implement strategies that capitalize on the inherent opportunities present in recreation to support and promote children’s mental health. Leaders @ Play is a program designed to promote mental health for participating adolescents and support healthy behavioral, social, and emotional functioning among younger children. The current iteration of Leaders @ Play was implemented in five parks during the summer of 2016.  Leaders @ Play examined the capacity of parks to facilitate social and emotional skills among youth and support youth to reach developmentally and culturally appropriate milestones, including healthy relationships, school success, and acquisition of workforce skills. Adolescents participated in weekly trainings with an evidence-informed curriculum that utilized sports and recreation to introduce and reinforce skills in problem solving, emotion regulation, and effective communication.  Ongoing work is focused on maintaining and sustaining Leaders @ Play in the Chicago Park District by integrating Leaders @ Play into routine programming and supporting staff implementation of the program.  
Roles for Interns on Leaders @ Play:

  • Secondary data analysis
  • Possibility for consultation with community partners and ongoing evaluation
  • Gain experience and exposure to the role of a recreation workforce in promoting children’s mental health
  • Grant preparation for future service model implementation to support sustainability