University Settlement’s Marilus Castellanos Makes Remarks at the Rally for Mental Health at City Hall

By Marilus Castellanos, Senior Program Director of Early Childhood Mental Health and Family Wellness, University Settlement

Good afternoon, my name is Marilus Castellanos, and I am the Senior Program Director of Early Childhood Mental Health and Family Wellness at University Settlement. 

I am here this afternoon to speak on behalf of our youngest New Yorkers and their families. I oversee University Settlement’s Butterflies program, which provides a continuum of supportive mental health services to children under five and their families who are enrolled in our early childhood programs and live in our communities across the city. 

We are grateful for the City Council’s Children Under 5 Initiative, which supports Butterflies, and we call for a full restoration of funds for the Children Under 5 Initiative, along with the other mental health initiatives, to Fiscal Year 23 levels. 

For all children to thrive, they need to be in safe, nurturing, and predictable relationships. Early childhood mental health programs like ours help to mitigate stress and provide resources and support for all the trusted grownups in a child’s life from parents and family members to Early Childhood teachers and childcare providers, so that they can be their best selves when caring for our little ones. These relationships are the basis for future learning, development and social emotional well-being. 

This year alone our incredible staff of clinicians, have provided: 

  • Professional development for our Early Childhood Division staff which includes teachers and Early Head Start home visitors  
  • Universal social emotional screenings for all children enrolled in our 4 centers in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. Averaging about 600 children! 
  • Group services for all 4 center-based sites that include yoga, movement, and chats about all of our Big Feelings! 
  • Group services using evidenced based curriculum for parents and caregivers to build communities of support 
  • Evidenced based clinical treatment for approximately 25 families and social emotional support for 23% of the children enrolled at our 4 center-based sites 

And our community needs more. While I am here calling for a restoration of funds to FY23 levels, we know that we really need more funding. 

As with almost all mental health providers, we currently have a waitlist. And with a major clinic closing in Brownsville, our program in East New York will be one of the very few programs that serve families with children birth to 3 years old.  

We also need an increase to support pay parity for staff. Like so many other organizations that offer early childhood mental health services, we are struggling to recruit and retain staff because we cannot compete with city agencies or big hospitals. 

But CBOs (community-based organizations) are integral in the ecosystem of mental health care because we reach neighbors who may not be able to access care networks like hospitals. Because we are embedded in our existing Early Childhood programs, we are trusted by families with young children enrolled in our childcare programs. 

We know that the Council understands the vital work that CBOs do, day in and day out, so all New Yorkers can thrive. Please fully fund our programs so we can continue to do that work.

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