Girls Inc. of Sarasota County started a family strengthening program in 2016 to help girls and their parents navigate mental health issues.
Three years ago, at the forefront of two-generational mental health care for children in Sarasota County, a local nonprofit, Girls Inc. of Sarasota County, started a program to provide counseling for girls and their parents dealing with complicated situations at home.
The Family Strengthening Program provides on-site counselors and staff training on trauma-informed care.
In the 2018-19 school year, more than 200 girls in the program received individual counseling and case management, an increase from about 130 girls in the 2016-17 school year. "There's been a greater need for services, more requests from parents, and more severe cases lately," said Angie Stringer, CEO of Girls Inc. of Sarasota County.
"It's not just girls from lower-income families who experience adverse childhood experiences," said Angie Stringer, CEO of Girls Inc. of Sarasota County. "It affects every socio-economic strata. Very few people in the world haven't suffered some type of trauma."
The stigma around mental health care is nonexistent at Girls Inc., Stringer said.
"They will ask for it. They will seek our case manager and therapist out as soon as they see them," she said. "It's a very positive thing here."
Myra McPherson, one of the counselors, describes her work as a parallel process — helping the parent help the child. She works individually with girls in therapy and also works with their parents with tips on parenting and helping parents work through their own traumas, so they don't carry on the cycle to their daughters.
"How can you help your kids when you haven't been helped yourself?" she said.
She works closely with the parents, often texting with them when they have questions about how to deal with behavioral issues at home.
"We never want to make the parent feel like what they're doing is wrong; we just try to work with them to figure out how we can all work together to fix whatever's going on," McPherson said.
Some of the issues McPherson and the girls work through in counseling are sexual abuse, domestic violence, cutting, bullying, and eating disorders.
"I help them understand adult behaviors, like, 'Why would Dad leave me?' Just like parents don't understand childhood behavior, kids don't understand adult behavior," McPherson said.
Girls Inc. of Sarasota County has more than 800 girls in the program, which will work at 20 schools in the county this year, up from 15 last year. About 450 girls attend the program in the building, at 201 S. Tuttle Ave., and 60% of them are on a scholarship.
The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation gave a three-year, $225,000 grant in 2016 to start the family-strengthening program, and recently gave a $275,000 to continue the program for another three years.
"Girls were coming in with issues like, 'My dad is beating my mom, and I'm pulling my hair out, and I can't focus in the classroom,'" said Kelly Romanoff with the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. "We made a very specific investment because we knew that Girls Inc. has the capacity to reach youth and look at the whole family unit — how do you build resilience in the family unit."