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Promising Minds

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Promising Minds

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

Our keiki are the future of Hawai‘i. Research indicates that the first few years of a child’s life is critical to healthy mental and emotional development. However, in Hawai‘i, early care providers have found that too many children do not get the screenings, support, or treatment to help protect them against challenges down the road.

At HCF, we believe that the wellbeing and development of children under age five is a core component to strengthening Hawai‘i’s communities. Launched in March 2019, Promising Minds is a three-year initiative dedicated to improving early childhood behavioral health in Hawai‘i. by investing in the future of our keiki, especially those at-risk of trauma, abuse and neglect, or dealing with their aftereffects.

How is HCF achieving the vision of Promising Minds?

The Promising Minds Initiative focuses on a three-pronged approach. We believe that if organizations, agencies, and practitioners adopt a trauma-informed stance based on the research that trauma does impact a child’s mental and emotional development, the whole system will shift toward a new normal where early adverse experiences are non-stigmatized and every child receives the support they need to be set up for success.

Approach 1: System – The foundations to improve systems are included in a public-private partnership developed Integrated Infant and Early Childhood Behavioral Health (IECBH) Plan. The goal is to better address barriers within our current systems to improve behavioral health services for young children (ages 0-5) and families. Through cross-sector partnerships, systems changes will need to be made through policy, advocacy, data, and service improvement across the health, human services and education sectors. For example, better community access to regular developmental screenings for all keiki.

Approach 2: Workforce Development for Early Childhood Providers – Workforce development for early care and education providers and other EC professionals like home visitors will equip them with the knowledge, skills, and resources to provide equitable early childhood trauma care. HCF also partners with others to expand capacity within organizations and programs to become trauma-informed staff, which will increase impact.

Approach 3: More Mental Health Providers – Accompanying the workforce development strategy is a focus on developing knowledge and skills of health professionals so they can better work with the youngest children and their families. In partnership with the Association of Infant Mental Health-Hawai‘i (AIMH-HI), the Promising Minds Fellows Program was launched in 2019 to strengthen the early childhood workforce of mental health consultants (social workers, behavioral health case managers, therapists and others) by providing training on best practices 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.

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In April 2021, a new public-private plan was released to integrate services and systems of care for Hawaii’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 to 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 five-year plan is underway.

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

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Contact Justina Acevedo-Cross, Program Director - Strategies, Initiatives & Networks, at jacevedo-cross@hcf-hawaii.org