Category: Cultural Diversity / Vulnerable Populations
Large persisting unmet mental health needs of youth necessitate innovative and contextually sensitive mental health service models. This is particularly the case for minority youth, who face increased barriers to treatment due to their marginalized sociocultural positionality. These barriers are compounded by the state of the child mental health field itself, which has service provider shortages and difficulty attaining consistent family engagement in treatment. Community health workers (CHWs), present a potential solution in addressing these barriers. CHWs offer several advantages in promoting minority mental health, including minimizing social distance in traditionally hard-to-reach populations, integrating familiarity with local culture to provide contextually sensitive services, contributing to community empowerment as representatives and advocates of their community, and increasing service access as they expand workforce capacity and embed services within the community. While CHWs offer many advantages for effective dissemination of mental health interventions, studies using CHWs have mainly focused on whether interventions implemented by this workforce are effective, while leaving much unknown about the nature of CHWs’ role and the key elements that make them effective. The present qualitative study interviewed 16 CHWs implementing a school-based early intervention program in communities of urban poverty. The program targeted promoting child and parent engagement in schooling as a protective factor for children’s mental health. CHWs were interviewed about the strategies, characteristics, and elements of their role that they leveraged in connecting and engaging families. Thematic analyses highlighted how CHWs relied on certain shared experiences between clients and CHWs to facilitate trust, relationship building, and engagement in services. In addition, analyses revealed a variety of strategies utilized to engage parents in services, some similar to traditional mental health service engagement strategies, and others seemingly more unique to community health work. We reflect on the implications of these findings for mental health service provision for minority youth and families.
Erika Gustafson– Graduate student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago