Faith-Based Organizations in a System of Behavioral Health Care

Article excerpt

Through community service activities, and ministries to members within their congregations, faith communities will encounter individuals with behavioral health needs. This article suggests that faith communities have inherent resources that can enhance the reach and effectiveness of behavioral health systems. A framework is presented that will create a bridge of understanding about how behavioral health can leverage faith organization assets and how faith organizations can actively assist adults, children and families with behavioral health needs within the context of their faith and their community.

Throughout the history of the United States, faith communities have delivered community services. Guided by theology, faith communities pioneered the provision of care for populations such as orphans, unmarried mothers, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and persons who were ill, homeless, or lacked resources. As government entities, not-for-profits, and for-profit organizations have taken a more dominant role in funding and delivering health and human services, faith communities have continued to play an active, though less obvious, role in providing community services. At least one in five congregations report supporting or providing cash assistance, food assistance, hospital/nursing facilities, counseling/hotlines, elderly housing and other senior services, services in prison, child care, substance abuse services, tutoring, health education, or employment services (Dudley & Rozen, 2001); hence, faith communities continue to play a vital role in community services that create a "national, personal network of human services extending to virtually every community" (Dudley & Rozen, p. 46; see also Canning, 2005). The pervasiveness of community services among faith communities is particularly striking given that many congregations lack adequate physical facilities, only a small minority enjoy excellent financial health, and half have fewer than 100 people participate on a regular basis.

The faith community and behavioral health communities have a long tradition of working together to address the needs of persons with mental illness and substance abuse disorders (e.g., Kloos, Horneffer, & Moore, 1995; Kress & Elias, 2000; Maton & Pargament, 1987; McRay, 2001; Spriggs & Sloter, 2003), albeit in non-systematic ways and often not effectively. Although the Federal Faith-Based Initiative was controversial, it has continued through the Bush Administration and into the Obama Administration (e.g., Kramer, 2010). Consequently, it seems the right time to consider models that support effective partnering among faith communities and behavioral health systems. In this article, we provide a model for how congregations and their ministries can become part of the behavioral health services solution. (1) This model provides guidance for behavioral health systems about how to more effectively use and understand the assets of faith communities and suggests ways ministries can use their strengths to take an active role in meeting behavioral healthcare needs of people in their community. The roots of this model are in Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological model of intersecting systems that are best understood in a dynamic network that have an inherent hierarchal order. The model is based on two premises: 1) the inclusion of faith-based organizations in the behavioral health system of care is critical for an effective response to mental health and substance abuse disorders, and 2) faith communities can provide a variety of effective service options to fill needed gaps in the system of care.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FAITH COMMUNITY IN A BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SYSTEM OF CARE

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