Supporting Mental Health in Oxford County

Research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) clearly outlines the connections between the traumatic experiences of poverty and poor educational, behavioral and physical health outcomes. This is true nationally and here in Maine.

Oxford County is one illustration of these connections. It’s a community where 20% of children under 18 live in poverty (vs 16.7% statewide) and, according to Maine’s most recent Kid’s Count report, Oxford County’s teen death rate in 2016 was 6.2 per 10,000 teens ages 15-19 compared to the overall state rate of 4.6.

The Oxford County Resiliency Project (OCRP), a recent grantee of the John T. Gorman Foundation, is a collaboratively developed initiative that seeks to change these outcomes for the children and families of Oxford County.

OCRP partners – schools, parents, mental health providers and other community stakeholders – knew that poverty, instability, and the stress caused from a lack of resources can have long-lasting effects on a child’s life. They also knew that any effective approach to building resiliency in children and youth must involve the whole family. Given the needs of their community, they sought to develop an effort that could reach as many of Oxford County’s families as possible. As such, OCRP designed an approach that is multi-pronged – reaching school staff, parents, the community and, of course, the students themselves.

In June of 2018, the board of the John T. Gorman Foundation approved a grant to the Oxford County Resiliency Project to increase the capacity of Oxford County schools to support students’ mental health and well-being and improve their social, emotional and academic outcomes.

OCRP approaches their work through four strategies designed to increase schools’ capacity to systemically support students’ mental health and well-being. These strategies include the development of model Trauma-Informed schools; new strategies designed to increase family resiliency and community engagement; development of resiliency tool-kits for schools; and the establishment of community collaborations that use data to identify and track results. The Foundation has been impressed with the progress the project has made in just a few short months.

In 2019, OCRP hopes to implement and expand the work of the four strategies. More specifically, the trauma-informed school pilot will be extended to two additional schools, thus beginning to build a cadre of trauma-informed schools that can ultimately serve as resources to one another, and a second year of parent peer-support groups will be offered. The OCRP is interested in engaging a cohort of parents from the first year of the initiative to be trained to facilitate parent groups in years two and beyond. Lastly, the OCRP will continue to engage the broader community through events and outreach with the goal of initiating community-wide conversations about the importance of youth resiliency and well-being. They will also provide county-wide technical assistance and broadly disseminate their Resilience Toolkit. By the end of the second year, the goal is for all schools in Oxford County to be implementing at least one resiliency building intervention. We all look forward to their progress and hope that OCRP can inform the work of other communities that want to address this important issue. This is one reason why the Foundation hopes to commission an independent evaluation of this effort.