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Nonprofit gets $3.7M federal grant to address early childhood mental health

The Puerto Rico Network for the Rights of Children and Youth recently won a federal grant of $3.7 million for the creation of the Post-Emergency Community Mental Health and Education Network (Rescue, in Spanish), a comprehensive support program in the areas of mental health and early education to mitigate academic lag in early childhood from a trauma-informed model

The funds come from a special appropriation approved by U.S. Congress for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will be in effect for two years, from Feb. 1, 2024, to Jan. 31, 2026, nonprofit officials confirmed.

The Rescue project will offer its services to early-age children and families from programs in the communities of Barrio Obrero, Barriada Figueroa, Las Monjas and others, as well as to more than 150 professionals who provide early-age services in Head Start programs.

“This grant is good news for early childhood, families, and the island. In historic moments for Puerto Rico, when access to mental health services for early childhood is increasingly difficult, lags in education are increasingly evident and resources are increasingly limited, children at a young age are paying a high price due to the past years of emergency. They are the children of disaster, recently affected by Hurricane Fiona,” said Marcos Santana-Andújar, president of the Network.

“We’re convinced that our comprehensive model, which addresses health, well-being and education from an approach conscious of the impacts of trauma, will help mitigate lags and enhance the abilities and skills of children so that they can reach their maximum potential,” he said.

The Rescue project will offer comprehensive care in the areas of mental health, well-being and early education for children from birth to four years old and their families. The focus of this component will be on supporting learning, reinforcing academic areas such as reading-writing and emotional literacy gaps, as well as other gaps that children have experienced because of natural disasters.

“We have no doubt that early age is the best time to invest, and that is why we have developed this project, which is focused on populations directly impacted by Hurricane Fiona and its consequences,” Santana-Andújar said.

The program’s second component focuses on offering support in the areas of health, mental health and well-being for early childhood service providers and providers, such as teachers, social workers, and other direct service professionals.

The goal is to address and support trauma resulting from work during natural disasters, specifically after Hurricane Fiona and its consequences. In addition, training and support for these professionals will guarantee the continuity of the implemented approach once the Rescue program ends.

The project will have professionals from psychology, social work, health, education, and other disciplines, who will work in an integrated manner in the health and education components of the project. Additionally, services will be offered with evidence-based practices, such as the trauma-informed model, and psychological testing for families and children.

During the two-year program, 40 new direct jobs will be created.

With that foundation, the program seeks to support boys and girls in the Network’s Head Start programs to achieve the goals for their age in the domains of language, literacy, math, and socio-emotional domain at the end of the project in February 2026.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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