Five-year-old Akemi Brown's grandmother, Monique Lloyd, 49, of Austin, has been bringing her granddaughter to the Infant Welfare Society Children's Clinic in Oak Park since 2009 for physicals, shots and, as the little girl has grown, to see the dentist.
At age 3, Akemi's speech seemed to be delayed, and Lloyd and her daughter began to worry. So during a routine medical visit, they conferred with the clinic's on-site social worker to have an assessment done. With her assistance, the appropriate services for Akemi were rendered.
Then there was age 4.
"Now I know that some of this is normal toddler behavior, but sometimes I think Akemi's behavior is a little bit over-the-top," says Lloyd, referring to the meltdowns her granddaughter was frequently having. "That's when Sandy (St. Pierre, the social worker), steered us to Jackie (Carson, a child therapist), and Akemi has been seeing her since May."
Executive Director Elizabeth Lippitt says the Infant Welfare Society was established in 1916, but it is important to note that a social worker was hired as early as 1920.
So providing mental health services through an on-site social worker is not new.
However, entering into a grant-funded, collaborative relationship with Family Services and Mental Health Center of Cicero is a new venture. As a result, the Children's Clinic is now providing wrap-around medical services for the 1,200 low-income, Chicago-area children they annually serve.
"The goal here is to create a seamless system of care through which patients with mental health needs are identified in a medical visit, and then a treatment plan is developed that includes both therapeutic services and social service case management," Lippitt explains. "Then those services are delivered in an integrated and culturally sensitive manner."
What that means, she continues, is that the clinic has the ability to offer patients access to social/emotional screening, mental health assessments, individual and family counseling, social service case management, psychiatric evaluations and medication monitoring on-site.
For preschoolers such as Akemi, Carson says she often works on developing their communication skills so they can choose to use their words, rather than act out, melt down or be angry.
"If a 3-year-old child is always jumping around and unable to get to sleep, or when a 5-year-old is not able to socialize with peers in kindergarten," that's when a mental health assessment in the doctor's office can assist in determining if anything should be done, Carson says.
"One-on-one therapy allows a child to understand that, yes, they are having an issue, but they themselves are not the issue," says Carson, noting that she sees many teenagers at the clinic as well. "I would hope that more people would be open-minded and think to come to this clinic, or a place like it, and seek out these services if they are concerned about their child in any way."
Akemi's grandmother explains that taking advantage of the clinic's mental health piece is all about her grandchild being able to better navigate kindergarten this fall.
"They say that some of the most formative years are between [birth] and 5 years old, and I am at a critical stage here. I am laying the foundation for Akemi," Lloyd says.