The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) will partner with local nonprofit organization Beautiful Dreamers to operate a school-based mental health support program during calendar year 2020. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) $350,000 grant to CFVI will be used to fund a 15-month continuation project to provide mental health services for students and training for professionals in U.S.V.I. public schools.
“The mental health services system in the territory has been under duress for years, with both the current and immediate past governors declaring states of emergency around mental health,” said Anna Wheatley Scarbriel, CFVI director of Grants and Programs. “We also know from the 2019 Community Needs Assessment commissioned by CFVI that stress and trauma are prevalent in the U.S.V.I. school population and remain a significant health issue for residents in the territory in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
Founded by St. Croix native Vincentia Paul-Constantin, Ph.D., Beautiful Dreamers is a not-for-profit organization focused on working with families to meet their physical, educational and psychological needs. Following the 2017 hurricanes, the organization was one of the agencies selected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide free counseling services to residents. CFVI provided an initial grant to Beautiful Dreamers in 2018 to establish baselines of both need and impact from the storms.
“It is important that we focus our attention on patterns that are helpful and healthy for the mind,” said Paul-Constantin, executive director of Beautiful Dreamers. “As a society, we must seek to normalize conversations around mental health so that our children and adults can better understand the fundamentals of positive emotions and cognitive thoughts while working to reduce unhealthy thinking and destructive behaviors,” she said.
Working in coordination with school administrators, Beautiful Dreamers will develop an integrative plan to ensure students receive mental health services as they cope with unresolved issues in the home and community in the ongoing aftermath of the storms. The multi-phase project will incorporate a two-pronged approach: (1) providing mental/behavioral health support to students and (2) providing professional development for educators.
The project will provide training and intervention to the 11 schools currently being served through the pilot project, as well as an additional 11 schools that have expressed interest. The list of schools covers both the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts, and includes elementary, middle and high schools.
Dr. Paul-Constantin points out that while children living in poverty in the Virgin Islands are culturally diverse, they share a common reality: they are more at risk of living with multiple chronic conditions as they simultaneously confront Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“Unfortunately, there is a social distance between mental health professionals and this vulnerable population,” she said, adding that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is crucial to effective treatment modalities geared for the unique presentation of V.I. children. Dr. Paul-Constantin hopes that through the grant this gap can be bridged in order to offer much needed services.
“Enriching the lives of children is one of CFVI’s major priorities,” said Dee Baecher-Brown, CFVI president. “Our hope is that the findings of this initiative will serve as a demonstration project that supports enhancements in school counseling services throughout the territory. Ultimately, the success of this project will contribute to the success and personal development of school children in the Virgin Islands,” she said.
“Given the Foundation’s history of working with government agencies in various capacities, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing the territory, particularly as it relates to capacity, so we have consistently supported organizations and initiatives that serve to supplement critical human and social services,” said Baecher-Brown. “Not only that, but we see this particular project as a means of expanding the conversation around mental health in the territory.”
Support for this territory-wide mental health support program has been provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of RWJF.