Center for Children and Families to open satellite clinic in Little Village

Little Village, a predominantly Latino and working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side, is a place where a robust network of nonprofits and civic institutions work together to make sure residents are connected with the services they need.

“Our community functions like a big family,” says Katya Nuques, executive director of Enlace Chicago, a Little Village-based organization that focuses on fostering a safe, healthy neighborhood with access to educational and economic opportunity. “Everyone knows one another. It’s an extremely vibrant community full of very hardworking people.”

Although Little Village, also known as South Lawndale, has a strong community advocacy network, many of its residents still lack access to essential resources, particularly mental health services for young children. To help meet this need, Erikson Institute’s Center for Children and Families (CCF) will open a new clinic this fall in the neighborhood and work closely with other community-based organizations, including Enlace and social services provider El Valor, to help connect families with CCF services.

Generous support

Erikson’s CCF provides mental and developmental health services to young children and their families, as well as consultation and training on child mental health to community agencies in the Chicagoland area. The Little Village clinic will be the CCF’s second community-based satellite outside of Erikson’s River North campus. The first satellite, opened in 2012, serves Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. The new Little Village CCF site is being made possible by a generous $1 million multi-year grant from the Pritzker Foundation, which is long committed to the CCF’s provision of pro bono services to children and their families. A second leadership gift of $500,000 from another founding supporter of CCF, the Sacks Family Foundation, will also assist the launch of the new Center.

“Given the growth of Chicago’s Latino community, we saw a need for mental and developmental health support for children and families in the communities where they live,” says Margret Nickels, PhD, director of the CCF. “Our needs assessment in 2013 revealed significant gaps in mental health services for young children, particularly those younger than 5, in Latino communities.”

Little Village has one of the largest populations of children among Chicago’s 77 community areas. Of its 80,000 residents, 30 percent are younger than 18, and 10 percent are younger than 5. For the families of those children, myriad barriers can prevent easy access to early mental health services, including the cost of transportation and lack of insurance coverage.

A distinctive approach

The new clinic will differ from existing mental health providers in Little Village in its approach to treating problems in young children. The CCF focuses on working not just with the child who experiences difficulties, but also with parents. Parents fully participate in their child’s treatment and learn how to understand and respond to his or her underlying psychological struggles. The CCF also creates a supportive space where parents and children can learn to enjoy each other despite challenges or struggles. The goal is to improve both the child’s long-term well-being and that of the entire family.

Like the CCF’s Austin clinic, the Little Village location will bring the CCF’s distinctive and highly regarded mental health services directly to the community. The CCF already has a presence in Little Village, as it partners with El Valor, the second-largest provider of early childhood education in Chicago. Through the partnership, CCF is a consultant to El Valor’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, providing professional advice to staff on addressing children’s social-emotional issues.

“That is a strong foundation to build on,” Dr. Nickels says. “Connections with existing community organizations help establish us as a trusted resource and make it easier for families to find us to meet their needs.”

Over the past year, CCF staff members have been working closely with Little Village-based organizations to conduct community outreach, learn about parent engagement in the neighborhood, and understand how to reach families with parents who are undocumented. A bilingual clinical coordinator and bilingual clinical program staff will serve families whose primary language is Spanish.

“We’re excited about the CCF opening in Little Village particularly because of the ages they serve, zero to 8,” Nuques says. “Because of our neighborhood’s demographics, it’s a good fit. Our needs are great for children of that age.”