National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

by Rocco Landesman

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offers remarks at the interagency task force convening

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered remarks at the first ever-convening between our two agencies in March 2011. Photo by NEA staff

Today is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, an annual observance that encourages communities across the country to discuss, celebrate, and raise the visibility of issues and resources around the mental health of our nation’s young people. The national effort is spearheaded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I spoke with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to learn more about Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and how the arts can play a part in this important issue.

ROCCO LANDEMSAN: What is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and how did it come about?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day started as a grassroots effort in Oklahoma in 2004 when a SAMHSA Children’s Mental Health Initiative grantee celebrated community partnerships in an effort to raise awareness about children’s mental health. The idea caught on and in 2005 SAMHSA supported a national awareness day to help bring visibility to the local activities. The number of national Awareness Day collaborating organizations has grown from four in 2005 to 134 in 2012.

We use this observance each year to raise awareness about the resilience of children with mental health problems and the effectiveness of mental health services. This year Awareness Day is being celebrated with a national event in Washington, DC, and more than 1,100 communities and 130 national organizations will be involved in Awareness Day activities.

LANDESMAN: I know this is the seventh year of this program. Is there a particular focus to this year’s events?

SEBELIUS: The theme of the national event is “Heroes of Hope.” We define a “Hero of Hope” as a caring adult who provides ongoing support to a child or young person in need. This year there is a special focus on children and youth served in child welfare, juvenile justice, and education systems who have experienced a traumatic event and have thrived in spite of the challenges they face. Through dance, poetry, and spoken word, youth will pay tribute to Heroes of Hope at the National Awareness event. During the event, I will have the opportunity to present an award to Cyndi Lauper for her work on behalf of homeless LGBT youth.

LANDESMAN: How can the arts play a part in supporting the mental health of children—whether or not they are trauma survivors? And can you please speak briefly about some of the medical and scientific research that supports the positive linkages between the arts and health?

SEBELIUS: Art therapists work with youth to express their emotions when words alone are not sufficient. Creative expression of their feelings can help young people process challenges associated with trauma and conflict. Engaging young people with mental health problems in the arts can increase self-esteem and coping skills and can help them reach their full potential.

Some of the more promising work in this area was featured in a 2011 white paper The Arts and Human Development: Framing a National Research Agenda for the Arts, Lifelong Learning, and Individual Well-Being. When we released the paper with the NEA, we also jointly launched an Interagency Task Force on the Arts and Human Development comprised of 15 federal entities, including SAMHSA.

LANDESMAN:  What are some practical ways in which we can support the mental well-being of our children at home or in school?

SEBELIUS: There are many ways that adults can support the well-being of the children and youth in their lives, including: spending time with them, creating positive expectations, cultivating their interests, reinforcing  them with praise and encouragement, providing appropriate limits and boundaries, and building their self-confidence.

Presidential Proclamation — National Foster Care Month

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
May 02, 2012

Presidential Proclamation – National Foster Care Month

NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH, 2012
– – – – – – –
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Childhood is a time for our young people to grow and learn, protected by their families and safe in their homes. But for almost half a million children who are unable to remain at home through no fault of their own, childhood can be a time of sadness, pain, and separation. These children need and deserve safe, loving, and permanent families who can help restore their sense of well-being and give them hope for the future.

During National Foster Care Month, we recognize the promise of America’s children and youth in foster care, and we commend the devotion and selflessness of the foster parents who step in to care for them. We also pay tribute to the professionals nationwide who work to improve the safety of our most vulnerable children and assist their families in addressing the issues that brought them into the child welfare system. In communities across America, dedicated men and women – in schools, faith-based and community organizations, parent and advocacy groups – volunteer their time as mentors, tutors, and advocates for children in foster care. We all have a role to play in ensuring our children and youth grow up with the rich opportunities and support they need to reach their full potential.

My Administration is committed to increasing positive outcomes for every infant and child in foster care, and to promoting a successful transition to adulthood for older youth. We are working to increase permanency through reunification, adoption, and guardianship; to prevent maltreatment; to reduce rates of re-entry into foster care; and to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster parents. Through the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, we are granting States more flexibility in supporting a range of services for children in foster care, including health care and treatment of emotional trauma. And through the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2014, every State will be required to extend Medicaid coverage up to age 26 for former foster youth.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Children’s Bureau, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that carries forward a legacy of protecting our Nation’s children and strengthening families through programs like the Permanency Innovations Initiative. Over 5 years, this initiative is investing $100 million in new strategies to identify permanent homes for youth in long-term foster care, including more than 100,000 children awaiting adoption, and to reducing time spent in foster care placements.

National Foster Care Month is a time to reflect on the many ways government, social workers, foster families, religious institutions, and others are helping improve the lives of children in foster care, and it also serves as a reminder that we cannot rest until every child has a safe, loving, and permanent home. Together, we give thanks to those individuals from all walks of life who have opened their hearts and their homes to a child, and we rededicate ourselves to ensuring a bright and hopeful future for America’s foster youth.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2012 as National Foster Care Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month by dedicating their time, love, and resources to helping youth in foster care, whether by taking time to mentor, lending a hand to a foster family, or taking an active role in their communities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

BARACK OBAMA

Ron Huxley Responds: May is National Foster Care Month. It is also National Children Mental Health Month. Last month, it was Child Abuse Awareness Month. Hopefully, we will all be more mindful about the needs of children to have a safe and forever family!