Baton Rouge – Children who are at increased risk for behavioral disorders or mental health problems can now receive specialized services in six parishes in the state.


The Early Childhood Supports and Services Program was developed through a partnership between the Department of Health and Hospitals, the Department of Social Services, TulaneUniversity and LSU Medical School. The program provides counseling, screenings, intervention and other services to children between the ages of infancy and five years of age who have certain risk factors for mental health problems. These factors include abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, parental mental illness, parental substance abuse, poverty and having developmental disabilities.


The program was launched last year, and indicators show the program is proving to be successful. According to Dr. Cheryll Bowers-Stephens, LDH assistant secretary for the Office of Mental Health, data indicates the program has already served 543 families.


“The program was designed to serve high-risk children, and it is working,” Dr. Bowers-Stephens said. “After our first evaluation of the program, we found that 69 percent of children served were at-risk for abuse and 47 percent exhibited some form of behavioral problems.”


In addition to helping the children, parents enrolled in the initial program also responded well to the effort. One young mother who received help through the program wrote: “The situation I was in --- there was no way out. The program was supportive and helped me realize that there are people who care about me.”


Of the families served, half of the parents in this group reported their pregnancy was unplanned, more than half were experiencing clinically high levels of stress and reported having a dysfunctional relationship with their children and approximately 34 percent of the parents had a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.


Bowers-Stephens said in many of these cases, the families were isolated and unstructured.


“There was a high amount of marital conflict and family violence, and almost none of the families had a social support system,” she added. “All of these factors combined are high-risk indicators for children.”


Children enrolled in the Early Childhood Supports and Services program are referred to the appropriate services as determined by their mental health provider. Services may include counseling, behavior modification programs, mental health screening, assessment and referrals, intervention to prevent child abuse and domestic violence and services to address the medical needs of the children.

The program began in six parishes last year -- DeSoto, East Baton RougeLafayette, Ouachita, St. Tammany and Terrebonne. Given the initial success of the program, the Office of Mental Health hopes to use information culled from these six parishes to create a statewide model for early childhood mental health intervention services.


The Early Childhood Supports and Services network joins different agencies together in an effort to identify and screen at-risk children, then refer them to the appropriate services for each child’s particular situation. Collaboration occurs between the LDH Office of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services, Office of Family Services. Other agencies participating in the network include Head Start, Early Head Start, Department of Education; the Office of Women’s Services; and the LDH offices of Public Health, Addictive Disorders, and Developmental Disabilities. Tulane University Medical School and LSU Medical Schoolin New Orleans both will provide training and consultation for participating mental health professionals.


Founders of the program have been invited to present findings from these areas at a national conference on developing local systems of care this June in San Francisco.


For more information on ECSS, visit the program Web site,