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Kids' Minds Matter Makes Strides for Children in Crisis

From Chris Simoneau, Chief Foundation & Development Officer

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected us all.

Millions have lost their lives worldwide and thousands have been sickened and died in Southwest Florida.

While the effects of COVID-19 that we hear about the most are physical, there are many people – including children – who are struggling mentally. Increasingly, due to the pandemic, there are kids who are suffering from anxiety, depression, isolation, suicidality and violence.

More and more children in our community are in crisis.

At Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, we are seeing a significant growth of Baker Acts over the last 14 months. Recently, we had a child who was only five years-old come to us as a Baker Act. (A Baker Act is the involuntary commitment of someone who poses an immediate danger to themselves or others due to mental illness.) While there was a growth of 28% in Baker Acts in the second half of 2020 versus 2019, there has been a 358% increase in the most recent quarter compared to the same period last year.

Unfortunately, capacity for children with behavioral health needs is very limited in our region and many of our community partners are full, leaving these kids with nowhere to go.

Founded in 2016, Kids’ Minds Matter is a unified movement in Southwest Florida that’s dedicated to advancing childhood mental and behavioral health services. Kids’ Minds Matter is Golisano Children’s Hospital’s mental and behavioral health care fund and is managed through the Lee Health Foundation.

Through Kids’ Minds Matter, we have made significant strides in creating additional access to pediatric behavioral health care for the children and families in our region.

We recently purchased a vehicle for Golisano Children’s Hospital to help with Baker Act transfers, so children can be transported to their treatment facility in a Kids’ Minds Matter car instead of the back of a law enforcement officer’s car. This provides a level of respect and privacy that they deserve in a difficult situation.  

We are also starting construction on additional pediatric behavioral health clinics across the region, which will house 4-5 providers in each location. We continue to lobby for additional federal and state reimbursements, hold community events such as Normal is Overrated, partner with other agencies, embed care management professionals in the Lee and Collier County School districts, and plan for a testing center.

Additionally, we’re funding two psychiatrist positions to support the increased workload at Golisano Children’s Hospital as well as the adult hospitals. Once the positions are filled, it will create a much-needed 24/7 coverage of emergent behavioral health needs.

We’ve also renewed our commitment to growing local talent by extending our relationship with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) for an additional two years. Through this partnership, Kids’ Minds Matter provides $50,000 annually for scholarships to graduate students studying marriage and family counseling who intend to stay in Southwest Florida and work with the pediatric population.

I’m so proud of all that we’ve accomplished, I can’t thank the generous donors and passionate advocates in our community enough for all that you do.

There is still so much to be done.

Childhood mental and behavioral health is something we all must prioritize.

If you want to learn more about the work being done to help the children of Southwest Florida and become a local advocate, please visit KidsMindsMatter.com.