UMass Medical School awarded federal grant for state's first-of-its-kind collaboration for early intervention

December 03, 1999

WORCESTER, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), under the aegis of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH), has been awarded a federal grant to establish Worcester Communities of Care (WCC). The first program of its kind to receive federal funding in Massachusetts, WCC will use an innovative model for treating youngsters with severe emotional disturbance (SED) that is community-based, culturally competent, and family-centered.

Severe emotional disturbance is the diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder in a child under 18 years of age which has resulted in functional impairment which substantially interferes with, or limits, the child's role or functioning in family, school or community activities. The five-year WCC pilot will provide 100 children with SED aged 8-13 and their families with "wraparound" services. The wraparound approach recognizes that such families have multiple needs which cross agency boundaries, that resources to support nontraditional services are essential and that coordination of services and funding among service providers are essential for improved outcomes.

Collaborators hope that WCC will establish a model for delivering comprehensive, integrated services to SED youth and their families that will improve upon current standard practice in several distinct ways. In addition to providing early intervention, the program will focus on the child's family rather than the child alone. It is a proven theory that when families are better able to deal with stress, children have better clinical outcomes. For example, the entire family of a child with SED who soils himself will be better able to cope with the disorder's challenges if a treatment program can offer them financial assistance to purchase a washing machine so they don't need to go to the laundromat every day.

Investigators believe that WCC participants, as compared to a control group, will demonstrate improved outcomes in areas including academic achievement, out of home placements, court involvement, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and achievement of family goals. Researchers will track outcomes as an integral part of the program. Worcester Communities of Care will be administered by UMass Memorial Behavioral Health Systems (UMMBHS), a non-profit subsidiary of UMass Memorial Health Care, the medical school's clinical partner. UMMBHS will coordinate services from a wide range of local agencies and programs in Worcester, including the Worcester Youth Guidance Center, YOU, Inc., Great Brook Valley Community Health Center, Family Health and Social Services, the Worcester Juvenile Court, the Worcester public schools and the Worcester City Manager's Target Cities program.

"This is a truly collaborative undertaking between the university, state and local government, Worcester human services agencies, and the Worcester Communities of Care Family Advisory Council," said principal investigator W. Peter Metz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UMMS and director of child and adolescent psychiatry for UMass Memorial Health Care. Representatives of over fifty local and state stakeholders wrote letters of support, and commissioners of all Massachusetts Executive Office of Health & Human Services agencies also signed an interagency Memorandum of Understanding in support of the program.

"Most exciting from our standpoint is that WCC focuses on young children. Most funding today misses this group," said Joan Mikula, assistant commissioner of Child and Adolescent Services for DMH.

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have awarded first-year start-up funding of $1 million for WCC. Federal funding will be augmented with blended funding from state agencies to total $12-16 million over five years. It is expected that the state will continue the program after the fifth year and that WCC will serve as a model for extension into the rest of central Massachusetts. The University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, attracting more than $92 million in research funding annually. Its clinical partner UMass Memorial Health Care is central Massachusetts' largest not-for-profit health care delivery system.

Related Links: 
Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Massachusetts Department of Mental Health