Grant goes to ‘meeting people where they are’: $500,000 in state funds will be ‘catalyst’ for helping those in need

How can the community better support those who are arrested and incarcerated so they do not end up in jail again? Local mental healthcare provider Centerstone now has a $500,000 grant to help answer that question and provide services to those who are struggling inside — and outside — jail walls.

Last month it was announced that Centerstone received a $500,000 Community Catalyst grant from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction. FSSA has committed the funding to Centerstone over the next two and a half years.

It is a onetime funding opportunity to address mental health needs throughout the state. Money will be used to create new positions and start a Brown County ACEs Initiative.

The 10-question Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, quiz is designed to be given to children before their 18th birthday.

Questions center on such topics as whether the child was abused physically, emotionally or sexually; if their parents divorced; if a household member had gone to prison; if the child felt like a parent was ever too drunk or high to take care of them; and if they felt like they were not taken care of or loved.

Each ‘Yes’ answer is one point. The higher the ACE score, the more likely a child is to experience challenges such as chronic disease and risky behavior, like drug use, in the future, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

An ACEs community coordinator will be funded with this grant and will be tasked with educating the community on ACEs through training and workshops.

Sandy Washburn, a research scholar at Indiana University, will assume that role. She currently works as a grant-funded social-emotional learning coach for Brown County Schools.

“Communicating to the community the long-term health impact in an effort to help people have more understanding, compassion of the issues,” Washburn said of her role.

“The brain is impacted by early childhood adversity, the very structure of the brain and also the architecture of the brain. That is pretty profound.”

For example, there are differences when looking at a healthy 3-year-old brain compared to a 3-year-old who has had extreme neglect and abuses, said Centerstone Adult and Family Services Coordinator Martha Bowman.

“It is smaller and shriveled up. It’s like plum and prune,” she said of a graphic highlighting the differences.

The original ACEs study — completed more than 20 years ago — showed adverse childhood experiences are one of the biggest health issues, Washburn said.

She continued that trauma at an early age can contribute to a variety of illnesses and other health outcomes including heart diseases, depression or anxiety and any kind of inflammatory disease. The hope is to share this knowledge with the community to create a better understanding for why people struggle and need compassion.

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to reduce adverse child experiences and their impacts in the community along with increasing the understanding of ACEs and the long-term effects those experiences have on children.

But a high ACE score does not always mean that a child will experience negative outcomes in life. Positive experiences, or “protective factors,” such as believing their mother and father loved them as a child, can build up their resiliency to adversity, according to the CDC.

One of the biggest protective factors is feeling connected to a community. Centerstone Child and Family Services Manager Mandy Kinnaird said the hope is for Brown County to be a community that wants to support and help people heal who have experienced trauma in their lives.

“Recognize the impact of ACEs and as a community come together and identify what we can do to support our kids, our families, our people in active use, our people in recovery, all of it,” she said.

Filling in gaps

When Melissa Rittenhouse worked as a police officer she noticed gaps in services when responding to calls or arresting someone. Now Rittenhouse will work to bridge those gaps as the new ACEs outreach family support specialist.

Rittenhouse will serve in that role part-time alongside Casey Stover, working directly with referred children and families. The new position will also be covered by this grant funding. Rittenhouse said their role will be to help bridge gaps in the community with organizations and do follow-up on Washburn’s ACEs training to make sure people are connected with resources.

“We can connect with families of those incarcerated. One question of the ACEs is ‘Did you have a parent who was incarcerated?’ If we can go in and start working on protective factors there then hopefully it will prevent further trauma and difficulties later on,” said Rittenhouse.

“I would witness that as an officer too. You would go and arrest someone from a home where there are children and a wife. Now you have taken away their financial support, they lose their insurance and it compounds on that family not to mention any costs associated with court.”

That is where the ACEs outreach family support specialist could step in if referred by law enforcement or another agency or community member.

Melissa Tatman works as the jail services coordinator in the Brown County jail and is already seeing evidence where an outreach family support specialist could help the community.

“I’ve been meeting with an inmate. … He associated law enforcement with the evil people who took his dad from him. His dad was incarcerated. He spent 20 years of his adult life rebelling against law enforcement because of that. He just came to the realization they are not the enemy and that is part of where it got off course,” she said.

A criminal justice liaison position through Centerstone will be funded with this grant and that person will be tasked with integrating treatment and recovery supports in the local criminal justice system. Melanie Thevenow will fill that role, working directly with the local jail, court and law enforcement to facilitate services for people with “serious mental illness, substance use disorders or co-occurring disorders who are incarcerated or at risk of incarceration,” the grant application states.

Thevenow currently works as a recovery coach with Centerstone.

Management of the grant and the data collected will be done by Allison Howland, the director of the Center for Collaborative Systems Change (CCSC) at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU. The management and data collection will also be covered by the grant. Data will then be presented as evidence for sustainability of the initiative for years to come.

Earlier this year the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council expressed their support for a jail services coordinator and ACEs initiative. In February, the commissioners also pledged $20,000 from the county’s own American Rescue Plan Act funding as a match for the Community Catalyst grant. The Community Catalyst grant also received matching funding from Centerstone, Brown Countians for Quality Health Care, the Brown County Community Foundation and the sheriff’s department.

In March, Brown County Recovery and Wellness Coalition was awarded a separate $84,000 Community Coordination grant. That grant is also administered through the FSSA Division of Mental Health and the state’s Addiction and Forensic Treatment Team. That grant money was used to fund Tatman’s position in the Brown County Sheriff’s Department. The Community Catalyst grant will also fund Tatman’s position for an additional six months.

She is responsible for connecting inmates with services in the community as well as help connect their families to resources. Tatman is no stranger to helping connect people to resources. She previously worked with Do Something Inc., which created the Launch House as a space in the community where anyone could go to find help overcoming addiction, for themselves or a loved one.

That grant will run from March 1 this year to Feb. 28, 2023. The hope is that future grant funding can be secured to further fund this position. The idea of funding this position in the future from the county’s budget was presented to the county council and commissioners earlier this year.

Knocking down barriers

Discussions began in a small group of recovery and wellness coalition members about how to better support those in need and who have experienced trauma — from inmates to their families — without having insurance as a barrier.

Kinnaird said that Centerstone accepts private insurance, which is sometimes a barrier with deductibles and co-pays.

When discussions started, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused programs in the jail to pause, so the group was talking about how to bring them back, former Brown County Community Corrections Executive Director Josh Bales said.

Bales started as a deputy with the sheriff’s department and was one of the people who co-wrote the Community Catalyst grant alongside Kinnaird, Rittenhouse, Bill Todd and other members of the recovery and wellness coalition.

The sheriff’s department has been open to providing more mental health and substance treatment to inmates, but a lack of manpower has been an obstacle to making that a reality. This grant funding will now allow for that extra help to happen with Tatman and Thevenow working with inmates while they are behind bars and after they are released, to prevent them from returning.

“We really want this to be a catalyst for Brown County,” Kinnaird said.

This initiative will also allow for extra support for those who come across a police officer’s radar, but they do not have the resources to help them.

“I remembered this one little kid who was always out of school, just walking down the street. You did all of the legal things, but there were gaps where law enforcement couldn’t address the problem,” Rittenhouse said.

“If we could get people before they got in the system and started down that road of a record and jail time, all of those things that provide more barriers to success, that would, in my view, fill in some gaps there.”

A criminal record can then become another obstacle to finding employment or housing, ultimately making it difficult to live a successful life. Services can be provided to people without insurance through this initiative. The goal is to provide 500 individuals with training and workshops related to adverse childhood experiences and then 5,000 distinct services to people through various positions funded through the grant. People will receive multiple services.

This initiative ultimately allows for more flexibility with someone who is not seeking traditional mental health or substance use treatment services at Centerstone.

“The ACEs family support specialist may go meet and walk them to the door. That is not something we can do with other clients, meet them in town and drive with them to the office, sit with them through an intake they are nervous about,” Kinnaird said.

“It allows for more flexibility and freedom to meet people wherever they are and provide nontraditional services for whatever they say their need is rather than what is identified currently by the standards set forth for mental health and substance use.”

The grant will also help fill in the gaps and cover treatment during incarceration — and after release — for anyone who does not have insurance.

The ACEs initiative is also in the jail now as Tatman administers the quiz to inmates, which is already shedding light on the trauma they have experienced in their own lives.

“When I am doing assessments before I get to the ACEs part I ask them ‘Did you experience any abuse as a child?’ Typically it is ‘No.’ Then when you start asking the ACEs questions they score an eight because they don’t know,” she said.

“I thought it was redundant at first to ask if they had experienced any abuse and then do ACEs, but whenever they started answering ‘No’ to abuse and then scored so high. That is relevant they don’t even recognize it.”

Understanding trauma by taking the ACEs quiz is a way for inmates to develop self-compassion as they find their voice to advocate for themselves, Rittenhouse added.

Now Centerstone and the group of grant writers will work to further refine the grant implementation plan before hosting the first ACEs training and begin collecting data.

“We want to see if it made a difference? Is there positive change? Are we seeing this impact the community in a positive way?” Kinnaird said.

“In 30 months it will not be transformative, but these seeds can become transformative 30 years from now, 10 years from now.”

Learn more

Want to learn more about the Community Catalyst grant, the ACEs initiative or would you like to be connected to a supportive service? Call the Brown County Centerstone office 812-988-2258 or email Mandy Kinnaird at [email protected].