PRINCETON, Maine — The Passamaquoddy Tribe has been awarded the first of what could be several federal grants totaling millions of dollars aimed at coordinating and bolstering services to at-risk children.

The $800,000 grant from the Center for Mental Health Services, part of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was announced by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint news release last week.

It will fund the tribe’s Project LAUNCH effort, a federal initiative that seeks to improve services for high-risk, substance-exposed youth and families.

Project LAUNCH is an initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. LAUNCH is an acronym for Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children. The grant program, which began in 2008, supports 18 state and tribal programs.

The tribe’s Project LAUNCH effort will help Passamaquoddy agencies establish a family-driven, “culturally competent system of care,” according to the news release issued by Collins and King. It will target children age 8 and younger and their families.

The award is the first year of a four-year grant that would provide the tribe with a combined total of $5 million if it continues to meet the requirements of the grant program, Elizabeth Neptune, a consultant to the tribe and former director of its health department, said while discussing Project LAUNCH by phone on Sunday. The grant will benefit the tribe at both reservations, at Indian Township and Pleasant Point.

Project LAUNCH will enable the tribe to establish a “tribal-wide system of care for families,” said Neptune, coordinating services to families of at-risk children.

Children may be at-risk for various issues, said Neptune. For example, they may face developmental challenges or could be drug-affected infants. Services will target “any children who may have a special need” and also can benefit an entire family.

Neptune cited a woman experiencing a high-risk pregnancy as another example. Support services would be provided for the woman and her unborn child and after the child is born.

Another example would be a child whose family has limited financial resources. A “wrap-around” approach would help ensure the family has adequate housing, medical care and other services.

Young children are targeted because it has been shown that early intervention for at-risk children produces more favorable results for the long-term, said Neptune.

“The earlier that you can help a child and their family, the better the long-term outcome,” she said.

The grant will enable the tribe to develop a collaborative approach to helping children and their families.

“The whole intent is to develop a system of care for children and their families,” said Neptune. “We’re going to do that using a coordinated approach.”

Services would be provided primarily through or coordinated by the tribal health and social services departments. The grant funds will be used to pay for services and to help fund staff that provide services.

According to information about Project LAUNCH on the SAMHSA website, state and tribal agencies form Young Child Wellness Councils in order to create infrastructure and improve coordination and methods of providing services. After evaluating local needs and resources, community councils create plans based using evidence-based strategies to promote health. Strategies may include home visits, developmental assessments, mental health consultation and parent skills training. Grant recipients have latitude to adapt or bolster such strategies.

The initiative will involve “aligning goals and priorities of the tribe,” said Neptune.

“The Passamaquoddy have a number of strengths that I think will be enhanced through this project,” she added.

“It is very encouraging that CMHS is investing in the future of Washington County, and we applaud the tribe for their commitment to building happy and healthy families through the Project LAUNCH Initiative,” said Collins and King in the joint statement.