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Strengthening Hawai‘i’s Communities
Promising Minds

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Promising Minds

Supporting the healthy development of vulnerable young children in Hawai‘i

At HCF, we believe the wellbeing and development of children under age 6 is a core component to strengthening Hawai‘i’s communities. So, in March 2019, we launched Promising Minds, an initiative dedicated to improving early childhood behavioral health in Hawai‘i. By investing in our children—especially those at-risk of trauma, abuse, and neglect, or dealing with their aftereffects—today, we help chart the course for a healthy Hawai‘i tomorrow.

What’s the problem we’re working to solve?
Our children are the future of Hawai‘i. Research indicates that the first few years of a child’s life are critical to healthy brain development and emotional connection. Infants and young children can be adversely affected when significant stressors threaten their family and caregiving environments.

However, in Hawai‘i, early care providers have found that too many children do not get the screenings, support, or treatment needed to help protect them against challenges down the road.

Why does early childhood behavioral health matter?
Adverse prenatal and early childhood experiences can lead to physical and chemical disruptions in the brain that can last a lifetime. The biological changes associated with these experiences can affect multiple organ systems and increase the risk not only for impairments in future learning capacity and behavior, but also for poor physical and mental health outcomes.

Are Hawai‘i’s children really at risk? How big is this problem?
Research shows that 52 percent of children in families with financial hardship are facing emotional distress. The prevalence of childhood and family trauma and stress in Hawai‘i has reached crisis levels, and since the pandemic started, State of Hawaiʻi Early Intervention Services has seen a dramatic decline in social and emotional development in infants and toddlers.

Nearly half of all Hawaiʻi children (46 percent) experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), with 20 percent experiencing two or more ACEs. Additionally, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children experience ACEs at a higher rate.

How is HCF achieving the vision of Promising Minds?

The Promising Minds Initiative focuses on a three-pronged approach. We believe if organizations, agencies, and practitioners adopt a trauma-informed stance based on the research that trauma does impact a child’s development, the whole system will shift so that early adverse experiences are non-stigmatized and every child receives the support they need to be set up for success. The key is to integrate mental health prevention services into the settings where children spend their time—at home, childcare, or the doctor’s office.

Here is how we can ensure this happens: expand children's mental health services and make them a full part of an inclusive mental health system, improve coordination between pediatricians and mental health specialists, screen children (and their parents/family) for concerns in childcare and other settings, and make sure we have the workforce we need so that timely access to care is available in all parts of the state.

Here's how we are pursuing these three strategies to achieve the goals of the Promising Minds Initiative:

No. 1: Overhaul the Systems that Support our Children
Through policy and systems change, HCF supports the development of a funded and coordinated system of screening, referral, intervention, and treatment for our youngest children and families to help Hawaiʻi maintain an inclusive and complete mental health system.

The initiative focuses on making change through policy; community education; workforce development; and improving programs and services across the health, human services, and education sectors.

Notable progress made toward systems change to date:

  • The release of the governmental/non-governmental Integrated Infant and Early Childhood Behavioral Health Plan
  • The passage of a state bill creating a Department of Health (DOH) Trauma-Informed Care Taskforce
  • The creation of a Sustainable Financing Work Group including representatives from the DHS Med-QUEST Division to maximize existing resources for early childhood mental healthcare
  • The integration of professional growth opportunities for practitioners and providers in a variety of settings

No. 2: Support a Professional Network of Early Childhood Providers to Strengthen Trauma-informed Practices
HCF is working to equip professionals and providers and, in turn, parents and families with knowledge, skills, connections to others in the field, and resources. This approach has focused on workforce development for early care and learning providers, and other early childhood professionals such as home visitors. By expanding capacity within organizations and programs, we can have trauma-informed staff reaching across all departments of an organization.

Noteable progress made toward this professional network:

  • 90 people trained in peer-learning communities on trauma-informed practices, as front-line workers equipped to respond in real time, and to identify when more support is needed
  • 2.5 years of intentional evaluation, focused on early care and learning program data capacity related to development and social emotional support
  • 7 organizations working on deep practice and policy integration
  • The testing of a new tool, Resilient Early Childhood system self-assessment, tailored to Hawaiʻi
  • Strengthened community knowledge through the first-ever Kahewai Summit – more than 300 attendees; partnership and co-funded with the State Department of Health

What is the Kahewai Summit? The Kahewai Summit is an annual two-day event aimed at building a holistic approach to achieving wellness and resilience through trauma-informed care strategies for all early care and learning providers who serve children age 0 to 5. Our goal is to continue fulfilling the Promising Minds Initiatives’ vision to offer a professional development opportunity and a connection event for those in the early childhood field.

The Kahewai Summit is an extension of the work of ACEs Connection Hawaiʻi and Ke Ala Ho‘aka and Associates, and is presented in partnership with HCF, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, and the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools.

Learn more about the Kahewai Summit

No. 3: Increase the Number of Mental Health Providers in Hawai‘i
Hawai‘i faces a shortage of mental health providers, with expertise in infants toddlers and their family members, a situation intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help remedy this situation, HCF partnered with the Association of Infant Mental Health-Hawai‘i (AIMH-HI) to create a program focused on developing health professionals’ knowledge and skills so they can better work with the youngest children and their families.

The Promising Minds Fellows Program invites professionals from across disciplines in child-serving fields—from social workers and behavioral health case managers to therapists and parent coaches—to participate in a learning community that offers best-practices training by clinical mentors and a network of peer support.

The goal is to increase the supply of professionals who can meet the demand for high caliber behavioral health services and ultimately contribute to reducing the soaring costs associated with late diagnosis and treatment of mental health.

Noteable progress made toward increasing the number of mental health providers:

  • The development of a vetting process for the Early Childhood Behavioral Health workforce
  • 39 Fellows trained as mental health professionals with new expertise

The Promising Minds Initiative has grown through the generous support from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation, the Gwenfread Elaine Allen Fund at HCF, the Kōaniani Fund at HCF, the Rev. Takie Okumura Family Fund at HCF, the H.K. Castle Foundation, the Omidyar ʻOhana Fund at HCF, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Stupski Foundation, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

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In April 2021, a new public-private plan was released to integrate services and systems of care for Hawai‘i’s young children (aged 0-5) called the Integrated Infant Early Childhood Behavioral Health (IECBH) Plan. In Hawaiʻi, our system of care for young children spans across multiple departments, their internal divisions, foundations, and the child- and family-serving nonprofits that are contracted through those entities. It became apparent there was a critical need for integration to ensure behavioral health support was accessible and equitable for all keiki. Currently, many initiatives are in play on behalf of young children—the work of the Early Childhood Action Strategy, the Promising Minds Initiative, the Early Childhood State Plan spearheaded by the Executive Office on Early Learning, and numerous others. Implementation of the four-year plan is underway.

Want to learn more and get involved? Contact Justina Acevedo-Cross, program director, Community Grants and Initiatives at jacevedo-cross@hcf-hawaii.org.

Learn more about the work Justina does here.