Collaborative seeks to overhaul system

The overarching goal of the New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative is to completely overhaul the way services are delivered to children.

“We’re all in it for the long haul, on the order of 5-10 years,” explains Effie Malley, director.

More than 60 New Hampshire organizations are partners in the Collaborative, which was launched in 2010 and is described by Malley as a “coalition,” rather than a non-profit corporation. The Collaborative is an advocacy group working to transform the children’s behavioral health system and does not provide direct services.

Partners and contributors include entities from the public, private and state government sectors, such as NAMI New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Psychological Association, Granite State Children’s Alliance, Easter Seals NH and public school administrators. New Futures, a Concord-based advocacy organization for substance abuse prevention, is the hosting agency.

The Collaborative has received more than $24 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“The main thing [we’re] trying to focus on is sustainability,” says Malley. “I told the group that hired me that I did not want to be in this if we were setting up pilot projects that [would end] when the grants ran out. I’m really excited about the idea of system change.”

Two state organizations, The Endowment for Health and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, have played leadership roles in this comprehensive venture, identifying a “collective impact” approach that requires widespread participation. The Board of Directors at New Futures has a major role in the Collaborative’s governance, as does the 18-member steering committee.

Using input from hundreds of stakeholders, the Collaborative developed the New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Plan, which was released in March 2013. Among the projects outlined in the plan are FAST Forward, a coordinated approach for children with complex behavioral health needs and Safe Schools Healthy Students, a program to reduce bullying, violence and substance abuse in school-age children.

The Collaborative is also working to improve the integration of behavioral health care with primary care, upgrade the behavioral healthcare workforce and promote early childhood intervention. “Workforce is a huge part of what we’re looking at,” says Malley. “We don’t have enough behavioral health providers out there. It’s recruitment and it’s retention. People are coming right out of school working at community mental health centers, getting some training and then moving to private practice. That’s an issue we’re looking at.”

The New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative holds an annual conference, and supports a number of work groups, including a communications group that implements public outreach and educational programs.

“Our state-wide plan is a big accomplishment,” says Ellen Fineberg, executive director of New Hampshire Kids Count and a member of the steering committee since the Collaborative’s inception. “The plan is being recognized around the state and we’re now working on the initiatives that were outlined in the plan.

“It takes a long time to get people on the same page. There are so many people who work in this area but without that, it’s hard to create a state-wide plan for kids that really moves things forward.”

By Howard Newman