Imagine the possibilities if you had $1 million to explore and develop mental health programs that could improve the lives of children.

The Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services finds itself in such an enviable position after being awarded a $4 million grant (over four years) to transform the community’s “system of care” for mental health for children and families, and to create a new treatment model that could one day be replicated in other communities.

ADAMHS and the Family Resource Center of Northwest Ohio have begun to map out plans for using the funds from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Hancock County is the smallest county in Ohio to ever receive the largest federal grant available for children’s mental health.

The county, of course, is fortunate to receive it. The grant comes at a time when more and more children and their families are dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• 13-20 percent of U.S. children experience a mental disorder in any given year.

• About half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14.

• Suicide is the third-leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24.

Yet, only about 20 percent of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services.

Goals of the grant are to educate community members about risk and protective factors, and to connect youth to the system of care through universal screening, timely response and mobile outreach and engagement. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the number of youth placed for treatment outside of their homes.

Hancock County won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Through ADAMHS, Family Resource Center, schools, the court system and local counseling and treatment agencies, such issues are already being addressed in the community.

The extra funding should help provide tools to identify kids with mental health concerns sooner and provide a greater level of support and treatment services for youth and their families.

The grant should also foster creative ideas that lead to innovative approaches to assisting those in need.

Helping vulnerable youth at risk will have long-term benefits, not only to them, but to the entire community as they mature. Parental services will pay dividends as well.

As a result of the grant, Hancock County finds itself in a place where many communities would like to be. The funding itself won’t solve all youths’ problems, but creates an opportunity for the community to seek out best practices and put them to use.

The aim should be to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness while creating a system of care that continues to evolve well after the funding is gone. If done right, Hancock County should become a national model for mental health treatment for children.