Five Questions With: Paula Iacono

Paula Iacono is executive director of CharterCARE Foundation in Rhode Island and a newly named member of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s advisory board.

As a board member for the Massachusetts and Rhode Island branch of the nonprofit, Iacono will work to increase public awareness about Devereux’s work with children, adolescents and young adults with emotional, behavioral and cognitive issues.

PBN: How do you plan on strengthening Devereux’s public and government relations and fundraising capabilities?

IACONO: I am honored to be affiliated with the inspiring work that Devereux Massachusetts/Rhode Island is doing. I am continually impressed by the dedication of the staff, and the enthusiasm of its diverse leadership. I was brought onboard to raise awareness locally of the services that Devereux provides, and to advocate for additional funding for those services. I have spent my entire professional career in Rhode Island as a friend raiser and fundraiser for educational institutions and hospitals; I look forward to utilizing those talents and networks to benefit Devereux.

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PBN: Does CharterCARE work collaboratively with Devereux in any capacity?

IACONO: Devereux’ s programs and services include therapeutic foster care, special needs education, autism programs, residential and group homes, as well as adult services. CharterCARE’s mission is to serve as a community resource for accessible, affordable and responsive health care and related services – including prevention, education and research grants, scholarships, clinics and related services – to the Rhode Island community.” I am new to the board but given the synergy of our missions, I’m sure there will be many opportunities to collaborate.

In addition, Devereux, like any good nonprofit, is always looking to broaden and deepen its board with different knowledge bases and perspectives. And CharterCARE is anxious to learn more about community needs and what organizations are doing to respond. So, this is a good partnership.

PBN: How important is it to reach children early on who may have emotional, behavioral or cognitive issues?

IACONO: The foundation for emotional health develops in infancy and early childhood. In Rhode Island in 2018, nearly one in four victims of child abuse and neglect were infants and toddlers under age 3 [according to Rhode Island Kids Count]. Children at this young age who are deprived of a nurturing, loving environment struggle to develop trusting, secure relationships and manage their emotions. It can cause disruption in the development of their brain and biological systems.

The earlier we can get to these children who have been mistreated or neglected, the better the outcome. Of course, not all children with behavioral or emotional issues have been mistreated or neglected; but the protocols for addressing these issues are essentially the same – and the earlier the better.

PBN: How can community health care organizations help address mental health needs of young patients?

IACONO: By training staff to identify early emotional and behavioral issues, by providing critical services early to these patients and their families, and by tracking outcomes to assure best possible outcomes. In the last two years, the foundation has seen a profound increase in the number of requests for funding for behavioral and mental health programs aimed at children and teens. Unfortunately, the need is increasing, and we need to recognize that and make sure our legislators understand the severity of the situation.

In working with Devereux, I have seen that they are always trying to keep up with the needs of the community, and they have opened new programs to address them. For example, Devereux now has adult services to ensure a continuum of care and support.

PBN: What can Rhode Island do better to help children in the mental health arena?

IACONO: Well-designed and -implemented home visiting programs have proven successful, as have high-quality child care programs that provide a nurturing environment, i.e. Early Head Start programs. We have these programs, but there is a need for more. It’s more than just funding. It truly takes a village: collaboration with health care providers, teachers, mentors and families to ensure that these children get the help they need as early as possible. Certainly not an easy task but critical to the children who need our help.

Devereux is also engaged in therapeutic foster care programs for [youths] with special needs. There is an urgent need to identify and recruit qualified families. On average, we receive 250-plus referrals each month for [youths] with some degree of special needs requiring placement in a safe, caring and nurturing environment. Unfortunately, we can only accommodate a small number of them.

The need for more quality homes is overwhelming and Devereux is always looking for people to open their homes to help these children. We encourage people who are interested in this program to contact Devereux’s therapeutic foster care office in Warwick to learn more.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. Email her at Graham@PBN.com.

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