Will County Health Department
Phone: (815) 774-7328
Collaboration is as Easy as Making Stone Soup
Will County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. It is a blue collar county, that is home to large employers like Caterpillar and is less than one hour away from the City of Chicago. In 2012, the population was 682,518, 6.6% of the population is children under the age of 5 (over 44,000 children). Total employment in Will County has increased 75%, and the median income for families with children grew 20% over the past decade. Promising economic growth combined with the culture and excitement of city life, stability and community-based focus of suburban life, and peaceful beauty and the quiet countryside of rural life makes Will County a great place for families with young children.
In the famous old folk story Stone Soup hungry strangers persuade local people of a town to give them food. It is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity. In 2007, Will County’s All Our Kids (AOK) Network struggled with not having much information on children’s mental health resources and services. The Network recognized the need to have trainings available to providers on topics around children’s mental health. Very much like the Stone Soup story Will County’s AOK Network found a way to gather together the resources of their partnership to host large numbers of providers and cover the costs such as venue, speakers, refreshments, and CEUs. Over the years this annual event has increased its capacity to train a large number of providers on a vast array of topics around children’s mental health or metaphorically not only increasing the amount of soup available to this community but also the ingredients that make it more appetizing and nutritious.
Annual Early Childhood Mental Health trainings were made possible through the hard work and contribution of many AOK Network partners. Trainings became more accessible over the years as it rotated to places like community centers, churches, hospitals, and a local university as partners contributed these spaces at little to no cost. Will County AOK Network also increased the number of providers attending these trainings by getting Continuing Education Credits provided by a local partner for social workers and counselors as well as educators. In subsequent years credits for Early Intervention specialists providing services to children with developmental delays were also provided. Each year partners were asked what topics they would like to learn more about and the variety increased over time. Every year between 75 to 100 people register for these trainings, representing all types of service providers like health professionals, educators, case managers and home visitors and more recently parents.
Training participants report an increase in their awareness about children’s mental health and the resources to provide for families. In addition to increasing awareness of services the AOK Network leadership also has noticed that these trainings developed a common language and viewpoint around children’s mental health. Now providers report feeling more confident and knowledgeable about how to address children’s mental health needs as well as provide appropriate resources.
“I really enjoyed the mix of learning styles, a nice combination of creativity and engagement.”
“This is a great training. Loved how the concepts were broken down and the focus on scaffolding! Gave the audience real concrete skills to use in the field, not just theory. Wonderful!”
The Will County AOK Network not only found a way to address the need to learn more about children’s mental health, they also found a way to actively engage their partners in building a community that eagerly contributes resources to make the proverbial Stone Soup.
What resources are necessary to replicate this approach?
- Dedicated network members
- Monthly planning meetings
- Subcommittee to address needs
- Free space (community centers, churches, hospital, university)
- Contributing resources from network members and others
- Know what topics participants will be interested in
- Lead person(s) to coordinate the event, hold reservations, behind the scène work.
- Variety of speakers, free or low cost (e.g., library, state agencies/programs, network members)
- Continuing education credits for participants