The Alachua County Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training Initiative was recently recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The Department of Court Services managed this Initiative. This responsibility was granted in recognition of the Department’s prior experience in helping MHFA training be expanded to local criminal justice agencies under a grant from the Department of Children and Families. Court Services staff recruited participants for training across over 50 separate organizations, scheduled all trainers, identified venues for training, and managed statistics to ensure completeness and accuracy.
The MHFA Initiative was a three-year effort to fully train County employees in an internationally recognized, evidence-based training curriculum, which is designed to provide practical tools to help identify mental health issues and respond appropriately. It began in January 2016 and proceeded in three phases. The first focused on training all County employees serving under the County Commission. Ninety-six percent of all County staff were trained in MHFA. After this phase was concluded in March 2017, the Commission sought next to expand the program’s reach to the staff of the Constitutional and Judicial Officers. Additional organizations such as the Property Appraisers’ Office, Tax Collector’s, and Supervisor of Elections were trained among them. Finally, a third phase leveraged MHFA training staff of County municipalities, the Library District, and multiple charitable agencies receiving County funds through either the CAPP or CHOICES programs.
Partnerships with local behavioral health providers were essential to the success of the County’s campaign. Staff at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and Partnership for Strong Families provided the training faculty (each of whom is certified by the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) through a rigorous program) to deliver the training. Court Services staff also contributed by providing trainers. Over 110 separate full-day training sessions were offered during the Initiative.
“The NACo Achievement Award for this program provides the County with the opportunity to serve as a model for the thousands of other counties in the country that may be searching for innovative strategies to respond to their own citizens’ mental health needs,” said Alachua County Court Services Criminal Justice Liaison Stuart Wegener. “We look forward to assisting other jurisdictions by sharing our own work, methods, and accomplishments.”