Efforts to improve public health in the Elm City received a boost yesterday when Mayor Toni Harp announced that the city has secured a $4 million, five-year federal grant for youth wellness.
Administered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Department of Children and Families, the grant money will be directed towards initiatives in the Dwight neighborhood to promote the wellbeing of children from birth to eight years old. The state agencies applied for the grant from the federal government, and Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that the money would go to the Elm City Project Launch, the agency that will manage the money.
With the funding from the grant — which Harp announced at a press conference — the city will focus on all areas of health, including mental wellbeing. Harp added that an emphasis on mental health can help to prevent tragedies like the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly two years ago.
City Communications Director Laurence Grotheer said that the grant will help New Haven expand the types of health issues it can address.
“[The grant] is to broaden the scope of health care, to go beyond physiology and to include emotional and mental health in response to the kinds of traumas that urban kids often face,” he said.
The DCF selected New Haven for the grant based upon the quality of the city’s health infrastructure, said Michael Williams, a regional coordinator for the DCF. He added that the existence of Yale-New Haven Hospital, one of the nation’s top medical centers, was a prime factor in giving the grant to New Haven.
Williams said that the grant will allow the city to streamline health services and make those services more accessible.
“The major objective is to strengthen the relationship between physical health and mental health organizations,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries ’95, who attended the Tuesday press conference, praised the initiatives that the city plans to pursue with the grant money. He said students had told him that mental health is an important issue among children in New Haven.
Harries also emphasized the importance of social and emotional health, adding that part of the school system’s duty is to ensure that its students are emotionally stable.
“Social and emotional health is the path to a college career and life success,” he said. “It strikes me as so valuable that we are, as a community, investing in and focusing on those young students before they reach school age.”
The DCF chose to focus the grant on the Dwight neighborhood, where there is substantial community infrastructure to implement the programs, said Williams. He added that the Augusta Lewis Troup School and Head Start programs in the neighborhood will prove valuable to the initiative’s success.
Harp said the city hopes to spread the initiative from Dwight to other neighborhoods in the future. She said that her administration’s strong relationship with the Board of Alders is an asset going forward, and that success in the Dwight initiative could create a new model for public health in the city and throughout the country.
The Elm City Project Launch is one of a series of public health initiatives in the city. In October, Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor announced a new community outreach program aimed at improving public health in New Haven.