Opinion: How we can improve childhood mental health the Utah Way

The Family Support Centers of Utah offers parents and children the support they need to reduce Utah’s mental health crisis at its roots.

Much has been reported about Utah’s mental health crisis and its childhood origins, and I am thankful for all who are getting the word out. I really appreciated a recent article by Megan Banta on Utah’s childhood mental health crisis. It was well written and thorough.

Adding to that information, however, I see a lot of good being done to address these issues on the childhood front here in Utah that is quite important in order for you to get a more complete picture.

As current board chair of the Family Support Centers of Utah, a nonprofit childhood social services organization now operating in 11 independent centers and 17 respite locations throughout Utah, I am very impressed at how serious Gov. Spencer Cox and our Utah Legislature have taken this. They have partnered with organizations like ours to really ramp up successes in the past three and a half years since I signed on here as a volunteer.

It has been suggested by our health community that mental health issues begin with the family and, specifically, with parenting. But, as most of us will recall from our own experience in raising kids, it isn’t easy to train up as a parent and most of us have to admit that sometimes we got through this pretty much by trial and error.

A decade or so ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Salt Lake County Police anti-gang officers to discuss what was then an alarming rate of successful gang recruitment of kids in school grades one to six. I learned that many children at an early age are targeted by gang leaders who find young kids from a struggling home life who are emotionally lost and most vulnerable to criminal recruitment.

Add to this, that for us parents, child raising often comes in early adulthood when we, too, are overwhelmed with so many life decisions that it isn’t hard to compound the errors in trial and error parenting.

To reduce Utah’s mental health crisis at its childhood roots and to keep our kids mentally healthy (and, by the way, away from a road to crime), how can Utah parents learn useful parenting skills without adding yet one more task to propel us down another deep rabbit hole of despair?

Family Support Centers of Utah, a united network of state licensed centers across Utah is the place where they can and do turn to receive parent training and assistance during times of stress, emergency and crisis. In addition to free parent education classes attended by people from all walks of life, our records show that in 2022 we provided over 89,000 hours of emergency child care.

To be clear, FSCU is not traditional “child care.” It is emergency care meant to help out in a safe, homelike environment for families needing extra support during stressful situations to prevent child abuse and neglect. We enhance parenting skills through training, information, resources and support. And we facilitate the healing process for victims of abuse, assault and trauma.

Led by a volunteer board of directors and a professionally trained social services staff, we keep our emergency centers open and available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and we can be reached around the clock at utahfamilies.org. As you all know, the mental health crisis is evident all across America. Here in Utah, Gov. Cox and our state legislators have done heavy lifting and are major contributors to our ability to maintain this 24/7 solution.

An internal survey found that, in 2022, 98% of our client attendees said that our assistance reduced stress, 96% said using our emergency nursery care improved family relationships and 95% said that our parenting education classes improved their parenting skills.

Collaborating with our governor and Legislature has provided more than humanitarian assistance for Utah taxpayers. In 2021, the OMNI Institute found that every dollar invested in a Family Support Center could result in $3.65 saved for the child welfare system per year. And a state report found that each substantiated case of child maltreatment that is not addressed costs us all an estimated $831,000 over the victim’s lifetime.

Organizations like Family Support Centers of Utah, by seriously addressing and mitigating childhood issues, lead not only to reducing our mental health crisis — a humanitarian win — but improving childhood mental health turns out to be fiscally conservative.

This is an effort that I am proud to be a part of.

Stan Rosenzweig

Stan Rosenzweig is a retired businessman, volunteers in various non-profit efforts and lives in Cottonwood Heights. Currently he is Chair of the Board of Directors of Family Support Centers of Utah.

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