Background and Purpose

The prevalence of mental health challenges among children and youth is increasing. Substance abuse, suicide, and other related problems are also on the rise. While the reasons for these increases are not fully understood, likely factors include stress and trauma, use of technology and social media, and increasing sleep disruptions. Across the country, local mental health systems are struggling to keep up.

Sarasota, like many communities, is seeking to improve its mental health system of care to fully meet the needs of children and youth. Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation are convening stakeholders to chart a way forward. Our overall purpose is to identify short-term capacity building and longer-term systemic investments that can create a system of care that responds effectively to the mental health needs of all children, youth, and families in Sarasota County.

The Research Scan

The first step was commissioning a research scan, completed by the Child & Family Studies department of the University of South Florida’s College of Behavioral & Community Sciences. The scan included a needs assessment, an overview of national benchmarks, a summary of barriers and challenges, cost projections for unmet needs, and a framework for making improvements. The framework highlighted governance, system entry points, trauma-informed approaches, financing, quality improvement processes, care coordination, family supports, prevention, professional development, and community supports. The broad theme was that services should center on the needs of youth and families and encourage their active participation in designing solutions.

Additional Sources of Information

Recognizing that no single study can capture the complexities of a system of care, efforts to gather additional information continue. An informal survey of the Behavioral Health Stakeholders Consortium of Sarasota County identified stakeholder priorities; individual meetings are being held with community leaders and groups not well represented in data gathering to date; and input is being solicited from existing youth and family organizations. The hope is to build a “learning community” process where stakeholder input is sought continually rather than at just one point in time.

Action Planning Process

The planning process includes the following components:

  • Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation convened the process and are providing technical resources and support.

  • Sarasota County Department of Health and Central Florida Behavioral Health Network are partners in oversight and planning.

  • Behavioral Health Stakeholders Consortium provides input into plans and products and is updated on progress.

  • A core planning group of service users and service providers meets to establish direction, coordinate activities, and review progress.

  • Six work teams, including members from the core planning group and additional stakeholders, will make recommendations in the following areas:

    • Outreach and community education will consider how to build more effective connections with community groups, reduce stigma, and increase public awareness and understanding.

    • Support for staff and families will suggest ways to promote self-care and wellness among staff, support professional development and training, and provide ongoing family supports.

    • Continuum of care will identify a comprehensive spectrum of services, from prevention to long-term supports; examine risk and protective factors as well as the current distribution of services and funds across the continuum; and identify gaps in services and strategic points for intervention.

    • Access will suggest ways to increase the ability of families to navigate the system and access services, streamline entry points, and improve service coordination.

    • Prevention and wellness will recommend methods for teaching youth and families the skills of self-regulation and resilience, enhancing natural healing capacities in the environment, identifying and responding to first symptoms, and integrating prevention and early intervention.

    • Financing will develop strategies for maximizing revenue, aligning financial structures with program and system goals, and using creative cross-sector financial arrangements (e.g., braided, blended, or pooled funding).

All work teams will also address two “overarching issues” identified by the core planning group:

  • Putting youth and families at the center of planning and service delivery

  • Ensuring that all services and supports are trauma-informed


March 2019

Research scan report released

April 2019

Preliminary meetings held with Department of Health and Central Florida Behavioral Health Network

Input sought from Behavioral Health Stakeholders Consortium for next steps

May 2019

Core planning group kick-off meeting; mission and tasks identified

June 2019

Core planning group meeting; initial work teams designed

July 2019

Work teams developed and begin meeting

October 2019

Core planning group meeting; review of priorities to address
Initial strategies for system capacity-building identified

December 2019

Interim progress report to funders and stakeholders

March 2020

Community action plan fully drafted