Pew Charitable Trusts grants $6.55 million to Philly nonprofits to address youth mental health crisis

The five grantees aim to increase their organization’s workforce, improve accessibility of mental health services, and build new locations.

The skyline in Philadelphia is pictured along the Schuylkill River

File photo: This photo shows the skyline in Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Five Philadelphia-area nonprofits are getting a major financial boost to further their work with young people, as part of an initiative to combat the youth mental health crisis in the US.

On Thursday, The Pew Charitable Trusts announced that it is awarding $6.55 million to the five grantees, each of whom specializes in mental and behavioral health services for children and adolescents.

The Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC), The Center for Families and Relationships (CFAR), Child Guidance Resource Centers and Philadelphia’s Children’s Alliance, and Penn Medicine’s Pediatric Anxiety Treatment Center at Hall-Mercer (PATCH) were selected for the grants.

These organizations have committed to initiatives that improve access to mental and behavioral health services.

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Each organization has also pledged to increase its mental health workforce and initiate a business plan that will help build new offices to reach underserved children and families.

The Pew funding comes as the number of children and adolescents reporting mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, has risen exponentially.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 14.7% of children aged 5-17 had received mental health treatment within the last 12 months.

Additional CDC data shows that suicide rates among people aged 10-24 rose by up to 62% between 2007 through 2021. Suicide rates among teens and young adults aged 15-19 have increased by 57% between 2009 through 2017.

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a stark warning about the current youth mental health crisis, naming long exposure to social media as a main culprit.

But Pew attributes the rise in mental health issues to a multitude of socioeconomic stressors that children and adolescents are experiencing. Among them are interruptions of social life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence, and drug overdose deaths — issues especially pertinent to Philadelphians.

In a statement, Kristin Romens, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Fund for Health and Human Services, said that, “Philadelphia’s children deserve the very best care to support their emotional well-being,” particularly for Black and Latino Philadelphians.

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Romens also praised the work of this year’s grantees in demonstrating evidence-based treatment that uses cultural competency and trauma-informed care to solve the youth mental health crisis.

“Whether the organizations are planning to expand to physical locations in new neighborhoods or create innovative ways to attract and retain a diverse workforce within the public mental health system,” she said, “all recognize the dire need to have treatment and services meet people where they are, using culturally relevant, multilingual, and trauma-informed approaches.”

Center for Families and Relationships (CFAR) is the recipient of $1.8 million in grant funds from The Pew Charitable Trusts Fund — the second largest award of the five nonprofits. CFAR’s CEO, Jordan Brogan, said that Pew’s funding would help bolster the nonprofit’s infrastructure, including plans to open a new facility in the future.

“What we really were looking to do is help expand our organization by opening another site in Philadelphia and in the counties to help provide more access for children and families to receive services,” she said.

CFAR, located in Northeast Philadelphia along Bustleton Ave, originally opened as what Brogan called a “mom-and-pop-like therapy shop” in 1994. The organization now serves up to 700 Philadelphians per week and now provides mental services ranging from outpatient mental health and trauma-informed counseling services.

The pandemic, Brogan said, was the most challenging time period for the organization.

“It was really difficult, if I’m being honest,” she said. “We were never able to provide telehealth services prior to COVID. We were having very strict rules around how sessions need to look, and they needed to be done in the physical space.”

Brogan said that “unresolved trauma” is a driver behind the ongoing youth mental health crisis, and largely perpetuated from “generation to generation.”

“And historically, I think we’re so used to just sweeping trauma under the rug and like not dealing with it,” she said. “And we’re seeing a lot of that now and you’re getting a lot of people who don’t understand how to do basic things like regulate emotions or communicate in healthy ways or have social skills or all of these things.”

With new funding, Brogan said the counseling center’s goal will be to serve more than 4,000 Philadelphia youth annually, build two additional counseling sites, and add more staff specifically licensed in trauma-informed care. The organization is also looking to hire more Spanish and Portuguese speakers.

“It’s so, so difficult to find a Portuguese-speaking clinician…The need for us to provide services for children and families who are uninsured due to the legal status of immigration is high,” she said.

Brogan is optimistic about the organization’s future moving forward.

“My ideal CFAR would basically be to have an infrastructure or an administrative side of things that functions as strongly as our clinical side, and expand into the counties to help create more access for children and families to receive services.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.

Support for WHYY’s coverage of health equity issues comes from the Commonwealth Fund.

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