Support and Oversight to the MHC

Support and Oversight to the MHC

woman at desk

Support and oversight of the mental health consultant is a very important process in establishing an effective mental health services program, but it is often over looked by program administrators. It is particularly important to provide clear support and supervision when your program partners with a mental health professional who is unfamiliar with Head Start, Early Head Start, or early childhood care and education. The consultant is entering into a system in which they are unfamiliar and which is often very different from the mental health system in which they work. Because the mental health system and the Head Start / Early Head Start systems are so different, program administrators can play a key role in supporting the mental health consultant in this new role. There are three forms of support and supervision that we will discuss: administrative supervision, clinical supervision, and collegial support.

Administrative Supervision

Whether working as an employee of the agency or a contracted consultant, mental health consultants need to work directly with an administrative supervisor who is an employee within the Head Start or Early Head Start program. Your program should determine the best individual to provide this supervision. Administrative supervision provides the mental health consultant with a direct contact person within the agency, who can provide information and support about the program’s vision and strategic plan for mental health, policies and procedures, and the program’s structure. The administrative supervisor could work closely with the consultant to establish important policies and procedures, such as the consultation referral process, the consultant’s role in supporting staff wellness, or the activities that the consultant will engage in within the program. The administrative supervisor may also need to act as a liaison between the consultant and the staff by facilitating relationships and modeling the value of the consultant within the program. Another important part of administrative supervision is collaborating with the consultant to review information and feedback about outcomes of, and satisfaction with, the consultation services. This might include reviewing individual child level data, collecting parent or staff satisfaction surveys, and/or reviewing program data on classroom expulsion rates.

Clinical Supervision

Clinical supervision refers to supervision of mental health professionals regarding their work as a mental health professional. Clinical supervision is very important for mental health professionals, so that they have the opportunity to reflect on their practice, discuss and problem solve ethical issues, and develop their knowledge and skills. All mental health consultants who work with Head Start or Early Head Start programs should receive consistent, ongoing clinical supervision that takes place at a mutually agreed on, and regularly scheduled time — regardless of whether the consultant is an employee of the program or is contracted to provide services.

Because clinical supervision should be provided by mental health professionals who have post-Master’s experience in mental health, who are licensed in the state of practice, who have an understanding of the role of the mental health professional within the Head Start / Early Head Start program, and who have knowledge of community resources, it is unlikely that a Head Start employee will be able to provide clinical supervision for the consultant. However, Head Start directors play a key role in ensuring that mental health consultants are receiving outside clinical supervision.

Often, certified mental health professionals working toward licensure will have additional criteria for their clinical supervisor that are required by the state in which they are pursuing a license. The mental health consultant whom you hire or work with should have a clear understanding of these criteria; if not, they should seek guidance from the State Licensing Board for their specific discipline.

Collegial Support

Many Head Start mental health consultants, especially mental health consultants providing services in rural areas, have never spoken to or met another Head Start / Early Head Start mental health consultant! For rural mental health consultants, then, it is even more important to build in ways for them to have collegial relationships and connections with consultants working in other locations.

Head Start and Early Head Start directors can play a key role in developing supportive relationships among mental health consultants. Consider creating a mental health consultant partnership with other mental health programs in your community, your region, or your state. Through the mental health consultant partnership, you could introduce your mental health consultant to other consultants, and they could share ideas, resources, tips, and strategies. Remember that mental health consultants who feel connected and supported are likely to stay with your program.

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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.