Evaluation Shows Promise in Meeting Latino Mental Health Needs in Maryland

Posted November 14, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Latino mother holds her young son; she is flanked by her two middle-school-aged daughters. Everyone is smiling into the camera.

A com­mu­ni­ty-led effort to sup­port the men­tal health of Lati­no immi­grant youth and fam­i­lies has pro­duced promis­ing ini­tial results, accord­ing to researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land. Fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, a pre­lim­i­nary eval­u­a­tion of Encuen­tros, a nine-ses­sion emo­tion­al sup­port pro­gram designed by Iden­ti­ty, Inc. and led by facil­i­ta­tors who are mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty, found that par­tic­i­pants were bet­ter able to man­age men­tal health chal­lenges and sup­port their children.

In my 20-plus years of doing com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­gram eval­u­a­tion, what I’ve seen with Encuen­tros is real­ly like noth­ing else,” says Amy Lewin, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land School of Pub­lic Health, who, along with her col­league Pro­fes­sor Kevin Roy, is lead­ing the eval­u­a­tion. It has become real­ly clear to us from talk­ing with par­tic­i­pants that this pro­gram is meet­ing an enor­mous need in the community.”

Com­mu­ni­ty Connections

Based in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land, where young immi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­i­ca are the fastest grow­ing demo­graph­ic in pub­lic schools, Iden­ti­ty focus­es on improv­ing the lives of Lati­no youth and fam­i­lies in the county’s high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hoods. Forty per­cent of the young peo­ple served by Iden­ti­ty have been sep­a­rat­ed from one or both of their par­ents because of immi­gra­tion issues, with an aver­age length of sep­a­ra­tion of sev­en years.

Inspired by the need for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to help each oth­er at times of emo­tion­al dis­tress, Encuen­tros relies on com­mu­ni­ty strengths and capac­i­ties rather than the tra­di­tion­al men­tal health sys­tem. The pro­gram enlists com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tors, or pro­mo­tores, who receive spe­cial­ized train­ing to facil­i­tate sup­port group ses­sions and help par­tic­i­pants strug­gling with stress, anx­i­ety and oth­er emo­tion­al health chal­lenges. For the year end­ing in April 2022, Iden­ti­ty host­ed 67 Encuen­tros groups for near­ly 670 parents.

The eval­u­a­tion, which was devel­oped from a long-term col­lab­o­ra­tive between the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land researchers, Iden­ti­ty staff and pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, applies rapid-cycle method­ol­o­gy in which data are used to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly mea­sure the program’s effec­tive­ness and improve it. For exam­ple, the num­ber of sup­port group ses­sions was expand­ed from six to nine based on par­tic­i­pant input from sur­vey data and focus groups.

Encuen­tros Findings

Par­tic­i­pants in the emo­tion­al sup­port groups for moth­ers declared that Encuen­tros was deeply impact­ful and life-chang­ing.” Based on what they learned about deal­ing with loss, depres­sion and oth­er chal­lenges, these par­tic­i­pants not­ed sig­nif­i­cant changes in how they inter­act­ed with their chil­dren and oth­er fam­i­ly members.

Sur­veys admin­is­tered before and after par­tic­i­pa­tion in Encuen­tros found increas­es in the per­cent­age of moth­ers who said they:

  • were doing a good job man­ag­ing stress in their lives (47% to 81%);
  • were able to help friends and fam­i­ly man­age stress (61% to 82%); and
  • had the skills to take care of their men­tal and emo­tion­al well-being (63% to 84%).

All par­tic­i­pants in the fathers’ groups said their expe­ri­ence with Encuen­tros had been pos­i­tive. Despite feel­ing ini­tial­ly appre­hen­sive, most felt that dis­cussing men­tal health was nec­es­sary, eval­u­a­tors found. Analy­sis of the data from the fathers’ groups is cur­rent­ly underway.

Bet­ter Sup­port­ing Youth

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Maryland/​Identity team now plans to adapt and improve the youth ver­sion of Encuen­tros using the same rapid-cycle eval­u­a­tion meth­ods. The pro­gram will be test­ed in mul­ti­ple con­texts, includ­ing high schools for stu­dents ages 14 to 18; a school-based voca­tion­al train­ing pro­gram for youth ages 18 to 25; and an online for­mat for ado­les­cents whose par­ents already have par­tic­i­pat­ed in Encuentros.

Pre­lim­i­nary focus groups with youth par­tic­i­pants revealed an over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive response to Encuen­tros. Many young peo­ple said they were bet­ter able to man­age their anger and calm down in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions with others.

Men­tal health chal­lenges exac­er­bat­ed by the fall­out from the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic have increased the need for pro­grams like Encuen­tros,” says Alli­son Holmes, a senior research asso­ciate with the Foun­da­tion. What I hear from par­tic­i­pants in this pro­gram is that it has a rip­ple effect — with pos­i­tive results not only for the indi­vid­u­als, but also for their rela­tion­ships with fam­i­ly, friends and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. The ongo­ing eval­u­a­tion of Encuen­tros will tell us more about how pro­grams that engage young peo­ple and fam­i­lies through their com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tur­al back­grounds can lead to bet­ter outcomes.”

Read more about young peo­ple and men­tal health in the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families