What is a Mental Health Workgroup and Why Do We Need One?

What is a Mental Health Workgroup and Why Do We Need One?

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We define a “Mental Health Workgroup” as a team of individuals who are committed to developing, implementing, and sustaining the mental health-related services and supports within a Head Start/Early Head Start program. The typical charge to this workgroup is to provide oversight, guidance, and continuing review of mental health-related services and supports in your program.

The Head Start Performance Standards require all grantees to implement a Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC; Performance Standards Section 1304.41 Community Partnerships, as well as additional service advisory committees that address both program and community needs. An important addition to your Health Services Advisory Committee is a Mental Health Workgroup. Programs identified with effective mental health consultation approaches suggest that having such a workgroup can greatly strengthen the quality of your program’s vision of mental health services and approaches. Regardless of whether the mental health workgroup is a stand-alone committee or a subcommittee of the larger HSAC, it is important that there is coordination and communication between these two groups.

In Tutorial 8: Developing a Vision and Strategic Planning for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Services we recommend utilizing a strategic planning team for developing a mental health strategic plan that can serve as a framework for comprehensive vision of mental health services within your program. After completing the strategic planning process, the focus of strategic planning team could shift toward taking ownership over the plan and putting it into action. As a result, the strategic planning team could transform into the Mental Health Workgroup.

The Mental Health Workgroup will need to meet regularly (at least once per month), so that planning can be put in place and momentum and group cohesion established. A functional committee needs an effective and organized convener or chairperson who can move the group through the planning process and who will be responsible for setting meeting agendas, facilitating meetings, and ensuring that the group is actively engaged in a series of meaningful activities focused on furthering the mental health vision with mental health services and supports in your program. If your program does not already have a Mental Health Workgroup or advisory committee, consider forming one now.

When forming such a committee, it is important to consider your overall program structure – such as how many physically distinct centers or sites you have, how the program communicates and implements program-wide policy at the center level, and how information about successes and challenges experienced by staff “on the ground” are best communicated to program management. Larger programs may need to make sure that physical centers or locations are represented on the Mental Health Workgroup or that there is a clear system for communicating information between the centers and the workgroup. Critical to the effectiveness of this workgroup is that it (1) has a strong leader and committed membership who are actively engaged; and (2) has a clear and meaningful plan of action that guides workgroup activities; and (3) establishes clear ways to communicate the workgroup’s plan, activities, and recommendations more broadly to program leadership, staff, and families.

  1. Group Leadership: Make sure that the committee has a strong group leader who has the skills needed to facilitate a reflective yet action-oriented approach. The leader needs to be committed to the Mental Health Workgroup and willing to take the time needed to convene and organize meetings, set agendas, work to engage participants, facilitate meetings, and do follow-up as needed. Often, the most appropriate leader is the individual who is directly responsible for mental health/mental health consultation services at the management level. Some programs may have a mental health consultant on staff who plays a broader role in the mental health services and supports who may be most appropriate.
  2. Developing a Plan of Action: As stated before, the best starting point for the Mental Health Workgroup is a well-developed mental health strategic plan that clearly reflects your program’s mental health vision . A good strategic plan will include both short and long term goals that the Mental Health Workgroup will address. You may need to spend some time at an initial meeting of the workgroup identifying and prioritizing the parts of the strategic plan to work on first. Keep the team moving forward on activities and make sure committee members are engaged in an ongoing process of working towards specific goals for the mental health services and supports.
  3. Communication: Consider the following possible ways to communicate between the Mental Health Workgroup and program staff, leadership, and families:
    • Post the program’s mental health vision and strategic plan as well as regular updates to somewhere accessible on your program’s website, a designated, on-site bulletin board accessible to staff, parents, and visitors, or use a readily available “sharing” software such as “DropBox” or “Google Docs” to allow web-based access.
    • Develop a brief list of key actions/decisions/next steps at the end of each Mental Health Workgroup meeting to distribute to all staff via email.
    • Have a report from the workgroup as a standing agenda item at Policy Council, HSAC, leadership team, and staff meetings. Identify key individuals to make these reports at the end of each Mental Health Workgroup meeting.
    • Email brief meeting minutes to staff and other interested stakeholders.
    • Invite program staff and family members to share their ideas, experiences, and concerns with the workgroup
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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.