Solomons, MD — The Southern Maryland BRIDGE (Building Resiliency from Infancy through Development, Growth, and Empowerment) project launched Wednesday at a kick-off and awareness raising event in Solomons. The collaborative effort builds upon the strengths of Southern Maryland’s parents, care givers, and service providers to better serve young children in the community. Specifically the program aims to improve outcomes for young children with behavioral health needs and their families.

“When we all work together we create an opportunity for discussion, collaboration, and an exchange of ideas and resources related to young children who have mental health and other challenges,” Carolyn Thompson, LMB Coordinator, Department of Community Services, Charles County Government said. The grant is administered through Charles County Government.

Data illustrates that very few young children with intensive behavioral health needs are accessing adequate care. Those who do not meet medical and financial eligibility often find that the services, primarily designed for older children and youth with serious emotional disabilities, are not developmentally appropriate to meet their needs. The BRIDGE program emphasizes the importance of building resiliency as well as social and emotional foundations during the first five years of life when over 90% of brain development happens.

“The data is clear. Mental health will impact a child for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Gayle Porter, Co-director of the Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center said at Wednesday’s event. “If we start early, we can change this trajectory.”

Other speakers included; Albert Zachik, M.D., Director of the Child and Adolescent Services, Mental Hygiene Administration, Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Tina Stone, Parent Representative and Finance and Administration Director, The Promise Resource Center; and Sarah Nadiv, Infant and Early Childhood Project Director, The Institute for Innovation & Implementation, University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“There has to be a curve in our violent society. Where do we start? Start with early learning,” Thomas Hejl, Vice-President, Board of County Commissioners, Calvert County said.

Partners on the grant include Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s County Governments, the Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Center for Children, Maryland Family Network, Maryland Coalition for Families, and The Promise Resource Center. Dozens of other government and social service agencies in the tri-county region will also be involved. The Southern Maryland BRIDGE project is made possible with generous funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.