Mind and Body

A texting service focused on kids, for parents

"The Greatest Eight," a statewide texting program to promote mental health wellness for kids and parents, wins Hassenfeld Innovation Institute Award

Image courtesy of the Washington County Coalition for Children

The logo for the new texting program, "The Greatest Eight."

By Richard Asinof
Posted 3/21/22
A new texting service for parents and caregivers to build mental health wellness skills in their children, through age 8, has been recognized by the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute,
How can this kind of bottom-up innovation, pioneered at the local level by a community agency focused on the emotional needs of children, be replicated and scaled up? Is the texting service available in other languages, such as Spanish or Portuguese? Can the effort find promotional backers from health insurance plans and schools?
The undercurrent in setting up a texting program to help parents with mental health wellness skills is that it assumes that parents have easy, affordable access to the Internet, something that ONE Neighborhood Builders found was not necessarily so, after surveying its local residents. In response, it built out the community’s own free wire mesh WiFi network. Being able to link the texting service with access to affordable WiFi network may be the next logical step to expand the program.

PROVIDENCE – It is no secret that the unmet mental health needs of children have been accelerated by the trauma of the COVID pandemic, overwhelming the capabilities of many service providers to keep up with the increasing demand.

Health providers, pediatricians, counselors, social workers and community health workers – as well hospital emergency rooms – have been flooded by high volumes of children in need of help.

In response, a new, statewide child mental health text messaging service, called “The Greatest Eight,” pioneered by the Washington County Coalition for Children under the leadership of the coalition’s coordinator, Susan Orban, was launched last year, with the goal of helping parents build mental wellness skills in their children. Today, nearly 450 families statewide are enrolled, according to Orban.

The focus of the text-messaging platform in on building key skills, such as communication, problem solving, and conflict management, Orban explained.

“We tailor the once-a-week texts to the child’s age, from newborn to 8,” Orban said, in a recent news release. “The need is huge,” Orban continued. “Children in psychiatric crises are flooding emergency departments in Rhode Island and nationwide. The need for positive, preventive child health mental health development could not be greater.”

More good news
Last week, it was announced that the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute has awarded one of its two 2021 Child Health Innovation Awards to The Greatest Eight [thegreatest8.org], recognizing the statewide child mental health text messaging service.

The award includes $10,000, active collaboration from the Institute, and provides for Brown University student internships.

“We’re very grateful for the award, as well as early recognition from the distinguished Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute,” Orban said. The award by the Institute, she continued, will help spread the news to  parents and other caregivers about the new texting service.

“We hope The Greatest Eight will become ‘the new norm’ for promoting healthy emotional development, in the same way parents teach their children how to dress themselves. We made it easy, [with] bite-sized ideas for busy parents, juggling many responsibilities,” Orban said.

Anyone can sign up for the free text messages, or by going to the website https://bit.ly/Greatest8, or by texting GREATEST8 to (401) 297-3020.

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