News Release: SUNY Poly Awarded $750K to Support K-12 Mental Health Services for Children and Families in Herkimer County

News Release: SUNY Poly Awarded $750K to Support K-12 Mental Health Services for Children and Families in Herkimer County

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 11:38
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Drs Joseph and Tichenor

For Release:        Immediate – October 20, 2020
Contact:               Steve Ference, Director of University Communications | (518) 429-7742 |

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services Grant Facilitates Study of Mental Health Services Best Practices to Develop Support Model for Wider Use

UTICA, NY – SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) announced that Dr. Joanne Joseph, SUNY Poly Interim Dean of the College of Health Sciences, and Dr. Veronica Tichenor, SUNY Poly Professor of Sociology, received a $750,000 award from Herkimer County as part of a Herkimer County System of Care Expansion and Sustainability Project grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The effort stems from a larger grant awarded to Herkimer County which aims to enhance school-based mental health services, proactively identify areas of concern, and provide trauma-informed care for children who are involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. This grant will enable the evaluation of the overall project by providing quantitative and qualitative data analysis and support the use and study of Family School Navigators, liaisons between families and schools.

“I am extremely grateful to the HHS Center for Mental Health Services for this award, and for our partnership with Herkimer County, which will allow SUNY Poly faculty and students to provide a data-driven approach to hiring and studying the impact of Family School Navigators who will be able to assist with mental and physical health referrals, social services needs, and early intervention for children families in our larger community,” said Dr. Joseph. “Our hope is that this endeavor will provide invaluable and improved outcomes for children in schools, strengthening their families in the process. It’s one way in which the expertise of our SUNY Poly team can inspire positive, generational change.”

“The use of Family School Navigators in local schools has been piloted under United Way's R4K (Ready for Kindergarten) initiative, and the early data from these efforts show that embedding family navigators in schools is a very effective way to reach out to families to help meet their needs and keep them engaged with the schools,” said Dr. Tichenor, who is also SUNY Poly’s Coordinator of the Community and Behavioral Health Program. “This effort is a great way for SUNY Poly to make a tangible difference in our community while providing our students a chance to gain first-hand experience.”

Family School Navigators identify families with young children and forge a positive, strength-based connection with them and their school that persists through the child’s elementary career, typically providing support for basic and complex needs, including: access to mental (and physical) health services, access to social services, and early intervention for all children in the family, including those not yet in school. The grant will be used to hire Family School Navigators in five school districts in Herkimer County, with the goals of:

  • Proactively identifying children with serious emotional disturbance (SED) or those children who are at-risk of SED, utilizing the Family School Navigators as a way to identify these youth and support the family using a wrap-around approach and make referrals to community based services; and
  • Improving mental and behavioral health of children attending school by collaborating with five school districts in the use of the Devereaux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) software system to identify a cohort of students with SED risks and provide referrals for treatment and supports.
  • This cohort will be followed over time and analyzed for specific behavioral improvements, improving the emotional and psychological strength of families, and over the long-term, reducing the number of youth with untreated SED as well as youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

Pursuing these goals will build on the Herkimer County System of Care Task Force’s efforts which identified preliminary opportunities to expand the existing array of services and, through a partnership with Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN), added positions and services such as intensive preventative services; a co-located behavioral health clinician; school-based lead referral supervisor, and two school-based community service coordinators.

To accomplish this research, Drs. Joseph and Tichenor, along with SUNY Poly undergraduate students, will interview Family School Navigators, parents, and teachers, and then analyze the data from the DESSA, Family School Navigators, and other programming related to student outcomes in areas such as mental and behavioral health. The results will be published so that other districts will be able to apply this model, which is based on similar work completed in partnership with Central New York Health Homes.




About SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly)
SUNY Poly is New York’s globally recognized, high-tech educational ecosystem. SUNY Poly offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the emerging disciplines of nanoscience and nanoengineering, as well as cutting-edge nanobioscience programs at its Albany campus, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology, including engineering, cybersecurity, computer science, and the engineering technologies; professional studies, including business, communication, and nursing; and arts and sciences, including natural sciences, mathematics, humanities, and social sciences at its Utica campus; thriving athletic, recreational, and cultural programs, events, and activities complement the campus experience. As the world’s most advanced, university-driven research enterprise, SUNY Poly boasts billions of dollars in high-tech investments and hundreds of corporate partners since its inception. For information visit