The Current Issue:

One in five children under the age of 18 has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Early identification, expert diagnosis and effective individual treatment of childhood psychiatric and behavioral disorders are needed, along with taking away the stigma for children and their families, and empowering them with help, hope and answers.

Over the past seventeen years, as part of its mission to significantly improve the lives of at-risk children in our community, the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) has searched for new approaches to help meet the needs of underprivileged children in Collier County. Six separate NCEF-commissioned studies have documented the daunting challenges, including lack of access to treatment, insufficient numbers of qualified mental health providers, and inadequate to non-existent coordination among health-care providers.

Mental health and substance abuse had been identified as the two most pressing issues by the chiefs of Collier County’s local law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

Recently, a Collier County Sherriff stated “In America, we have two suicides for every homicide. 5,400 children from 7 to 12 (years of age) attempt suicide every day.  Every day, 580 new users start taking heroin, and 780 die from opioids. One in nine people have addiction issues and only 11 percent of those receive any treatment.”

“In the first four months of 2017, Collier County had 2,700 calls for someone in a mental health crisis that equals one per hour.” Over the same period, there were 3,000 calls relating to substance abuse.

The rate of newborns born physically dependent on drugs they were exposed to in the womb continues to grow in our area and throughout Florida. Infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome   must spend weeks or months slowly detoxing in hospitals before they are ready to go home.

Golisano Children’s Hospital has tracked rates of exposed newborns since the early 2000s; currently 15 out of every 1,000 babies born in 2016 suffered drug withdrawals. That is more than twice the national average and a 1,046 percent increase over rates a decade ago.

In relation to the state, 338 Florida newborns suffered drug withdrawal in 2005. Ten years later, the number was 2,487.

As the number of infants are exposed to drug withdrawal, the overwhelming increase in developmental and social emotional delays are becoming more prevalent in our early learning environments.  Prevention and intervention is crucial for children not to follow the same path as their parent.



NCEF’s Contribution to the Solution:

Recognizing that the pediatric primary care setting is the main gateway to access care for children and youth, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have highlighted the need to address the mental health needs of children and adolescents in primary care settings. Based on their research and recommendations, NCEF has brought together key providers in the community to help shift the provision of mental health services in Collier County to an integrated primary care model. Presently in its 10th year, the initiative is beginning to transform and expand mental and behavioral health care for at-risk children in Collier County.

Dubbed “Beautiful Minds®,” the initiative strengthens links among health-care providers, community mental health professionals, social services and the public-school system. Under NCEF’s leadership, the David Lawrence Center (DLC), FSU College of Medicine, Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have worked together to reduce and eliminate duplication of services, maximize resources and increase the availability of high quality, best-practice approaches. The partners have created Collier County’s first integrated care system, an organized coordination of primary and behavioral healthcare. Integrating mental health and primary care services in a culturally competent model produces the best outcomes and proves the most effective approach to caring for children with multiple healthcare needs.


Because of the commitment of the individual initiative partners, each plays an essential and unique role in overall programmatic achievement. Some examples of significant system advances include the pediatric psychopharmacology medication management courses offered to Collier County pediatricians by FSU College of Medicine. David Lawrence Center’s targeted case management program for at-risk children and families in Immokalee has grown dramatically. Additionally, DLC has attained culturally competent child psychiatric services for hundreds of at-risk children. Compounding the value of these psychiatric services is the weekly provision of consultation with the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida’s psychologists.

Helping Children & Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder:

It is estimated 1 out of every 68 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Collier County. Per 2015 population estimates, there are 66,123 children under the age of 18 in Collier County. Based on this estimate, there are over 972 children with ASD in Collier County.

Golisano Children’s Hospital and NCEF joined in a partnership in 2014 to develop a workable, sustainable system of care and treatment for the low income and uninsured children with ASD in Collier County.

The Golisano Children’s Hospital Pediatric Specialty Clinic in Naples is home to the Autism Behavior Center (ABC), which includes an Autism Navigator. The Autism Navigator assists families to access a comprehensive network of providers and services for children with ASD in Collier County. She helps families to implement the Pediatric Neurologist’s plan of care by working with them to set up therapies, deal with insurance companies, and working with other community resources they may need. This has helped to develop a strong collaboration with other community agencies to bring in guest speakers, discuss barriers to care, collaborate on trainings and work to provide the best care to families. Trainings are critical to helping families with newly diagnosed children with ASD gain knowledge and skills from experts in the field of ASD.

Part of the Navigator’s responsibility is to develop a resource inventory to connect a network of providers and services for families of children with ASD in Collier County and identify gaps in services. The gap most often identified is the lack of available Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for children with ASD. The Pediatric Specialty Clinic has helped close the gap by providing an increase in the use of ABA to help children with Autism live happy and productive lives.

New addition in 2017-2018: Children’s Grief Support

Valerie’s House is devoted to providing children and their families who have experienced the death of a loved one a safe place to share and experience support with others who are also grieving, while moving through the healing process. The mission is to help children and families work through the loss of a loved one together and go on to live fulfilling lives. Valerie’s House vision is that no child will grieve alone.

Valerie’s House relies heavily on the use of art and music to help youth identify, express and process their grief. Younger children speak about their grief often and begin to heal through “play therapy,” as often their little hearts simply cannot find the words to express such trauma.

Partnering Organizations

Stay in the loop

Join our mailing list for updates, news and more.