CSW Director Reviews Accomplishments, Future Plans
On December 3, Newtown’s Center for Support & Wellness Executive Director Jennifer Crane provided the Board of Selectmen with a comprehensive review of the local agency’s accomplishments over the past year, along with detailing some ambitious plans for 2019 she and her staff hope will have a positive affect on the entire community.
Ms Crane began her presentation reminding selectmen that her organization, which primarily provides mental health referrals and support, is unique among municipalities.
“This is a very rare model,” she told selectmen, adding that when she helped establish the organization two years ago, it was hard for her to find many examples of a town-supported mental health agency.
“In my research and talking with other towns, they were excited to learn about how we were doing it,” Ms Crane said.
She said many of the initiatives the CSW has been able to initiate beyond its core mission, including a far-reaching Healthy Community project, have evolved as the agency became more integrated with other community service organizations and human service agencies — as well as the more than 1,300 individuals and family members who have sought and received referrals.
She said an average of about 30 callers per month are not just looking for mental health services or a provider.
“Sometimes they’re looking for wellness resources — local yoga studios or free medical help, for example,” she said. Ms Crane added that the CSW goes far above and beyond resources like 211 Infoline and private health insurance providers in that she and her staff “are very hands on with our clients.”
“We have a pretty robust database, so for example, we can match people with Blue Cross looking for marriage therapy to a provider who accepts that insurance,” she said. “And we try to vet most of the providers in person, so we can find callers the right therapist. Then we stay connected with the clients to be sure they don’t need anything else from us.”
Growing A Database
The CSW’s database of providers has grown from about 100 in 2016 to more than 280 now — most of which are in the immediate area and easily accessible to Newtown residents.
Ms Crane said the agency undertook a major website redesign earlier this year to expand the resources available to those seeking information before they call for assistance.
She highlighted a growing partnership with the local police, social service, and other human service agencies, as well as a state-assigned social worker and regional mobile psychiatric emergency response team that serve the community.
The CSW has also formed a task force incorporating those and other contacts, including the Senior Center and Newtown Health District directors, to discuss “hot button issues,” as well as to be sure they are tracking individuals requiring services, “so nobody falls through the cracks.”
The agency, along with Social Services, is providing alternating monthly office hours at the Senior Center, and the CSW is also working to identify service gaps in the community. One of those gaps was a lack of information for landlords and their tenants who may have mental health challenges.
The agency responded by hosting a workshop on the issue, and the CSW continues to act as a liaison, when appropriate, if a tenant or landlord is having an issue.
Part of the agency’s strategic efforts for 2018 has been to lead the town in a collaborative development of a “healthy community” initiative. As part of a broad leadership group, the CSW and its partners brought 50 individuals together to identify what a healthy community is and should be.
They held additional focus groups with residents, from high school age to seniors, and created a web-based survey to add voices to the effort, which received more than 700 responses.
The CSW website has additionally compiled a database of 300-plus town nonprofits, agencies, and municipal departments that are available to residents, including 97 organizations or opportunities for residents to connect with neighbors and others.
An online survey conducted last February by the agency received 752 responses, she said, and was issued to begin getting a sense of respondents’ “perceptions about their health in Newtown and to see if Newtown residents think they live in a healthy community.”
She reviewed many of the response points and identified the top ten areas of focus. She said more than 400 participants responded to open-ended questions that were part of the survey.
“Some of the takeaways that are important involve the number of responses who said they were, and were not, involved in the community,” Ms Crane said. “They were almost equal — and this I’m happy about because we often spend a lot of time talking with people who are involved in Newtown commissions and organizations. But we aren’t able to access the voices of folks who are not as involved.”
Ranking Community Health
When respondents ranked the overall health of the community, only six percent rated five stars on a one to five scale. Ms Crane added that while most people involved in town activities gave Newtown a three star overall rank, those who were not gave Newtown a four star ranking.
Respondents age 55 and over were the only ones who indicated personal health was reflective of an overall healthy community.
“Sometimes people 55 and over begin thinking a lot more about their physical health, so it’s really important for them,” she said. “And they want to live in a community where that is valued as well.”
Respondents age 35 to 44 were the only group that listed mental health services in the top three areas of importance.
“So as a department whose main focus is mental health, that will be something we’ll work on as well because I’d love for more people to see the connection between mental health and (residing in) a healthy community,” Ms Crane said.
The next steps involving the Healthy Community committees will be to move to a “marketing and buy-in phase.” The committees have also interacted with those involved in the local Age-Friendly Community initiative as well as looking into the social emotional learning opportunities available primarily in the school system.
“We’ll continue to use a modified survey to guide future work of the Healthy Community initiative,” she said, “and to hold an annual or semi-annual summit of local organizations and municipal departments to find ways to support specific events, to avoid duplication, and to increase communication.”
To that end, on January 18, the CSW will be hosting the first of such summits to explore opportunities to collaborate and explore joint funding, if applicable.
Another gap is the lack of a central community-wide calendar, which will be discussed during the summit.
Looking forward, the CSW will continue outreach as well as supporting the Healthy Community initiative and to clearly define how CSW and Newtown Social Services can work better together to the benefit of those seeking support.
Ms Crane also mentioned the need for two part-time social workers. Today, a part-time, one day a week staffer is working at the police department. That worker sits on the CSW Task Force but primarily works with police.
Ms Crane is also hoping to expand resources beyond existing office hours — weekdays, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm — and to find more ways to publicize state-supported services that could be of assistance to local residents.
Residents interested in attending the upcoming summit or who may need to explore the possibility of receiving service referrals can do so by visiting the CSW at the main entrance of Fairfield Hills, by calling the CSW at 203-270-4612, or by visiting http://newtowncsw.org/
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