How Michigan counties are stepping up to meet youth mental health needs

Over the past several years, Michigan's community mental health agencies have been stepping up with a number of initiatives to help fill the gap in mental health services for youth.
About one out of five children have a mental, emotional or behavioral health disorder, and only about 20 percent of those children receive care
A perception attributes the national youth mental health crisis to the COVID pandemic of 2020, but truth be told, Michigan experts believe the crisis had started prior to that, with the pandemic exacerbating the situation.

Kathleen Gallagher“Any early invention is the key,” says St. Clair County Community Mental Health program director Kathleen Gallagher. “COVID didn't help anything. When kids were isolated and at home that didn't help either. We're seeing an increase after COVID, but I'm glad people are seeking help. I think that's the positive spin on that, but we need more resources for sure.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of five children have a mental, emotional or behavioral health disorder, and only about 20 percent of those children receive care from a mental health provider. 

Over the past several years, community mental health agencies (CMHs), such as St. Clair County CMH, have been stepping up with a number of initiatives to help fill the gap in mental health services for youth.

St. Clair County Community Mental Health
Working to add resources

At one time, St. Clair County CMH had three crisis homes for youth, a children’s shelter, and a juvenile detention center. 

Debra Johnson“Our community has none of those things right now,” says Debra Johnson, St. Clair County CMH executive director, adding that coupled with the reduction of state beds, “We know kids with significant mental health issues have been sitting for a ridiculous amount of time in emergency rooms without a place to put them.”

As soon as Senate Bill 0227, which addresses children’s therapeutic group homes, is signed, St. Clair County CMH plans to open a six-bed children’s home. The home will provide a short-term option for children and families, where the child could attend their school while the CMH provides services to both families and children. 

Gallagher notes that for many years, St. Clair County CMH has worked with area school districts. Many of those districts receive state Section 31o funding, which allows them to increase the number of social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses. School officials have collaborated with St. Clair County CMH and other mental health organizations to ensure optimal use of the grant dollars and to connect schools with professional development and training. 

St. Clair County CMH also participates in the St. Clair Regional Educational Service Agency’s Collective Impact Group, which brings key leaders together to discuss issues impacting youth in the community, how to address the issues, and how to work more collaboratively in the process. 

St. Clair County CMH has also “beefed up” its wraparound services, services that are individualized, holistic, comprehensive, youth-guided, and family-driven. Through wraparound, all the providers working with a family are brought together.

“It's effective, and it's one of the better things we can do, especially for kids who are involved in multiple systems to try to keep them in our community,  out of the hospital, and in their homes because there also is a lack of appropriate foster care for youth in our community,” Johnson says.

Being a certified community behavioral health clinic (CCBHC) has allowed St. Clair County CMH to see anyone regardless of their insurance.

In addition, Johnson currently serves as president for the St. Clair County Child Abuse and Neglect Council, which offers a wide array of programs and services that educate and advocate for the health, safety, and welfare of children and seeks to prevent child abuse and neglect before it occurs.

Call line staff working in the team room at Summit Pointe’s First Step Urgent Care.
Calhoun County: working with schools, eliminating barriers 

According to Angela Deal, director of youth services at Calhoun County’s CMH Summit Pointe, school wellness programs help fill the gap in youth behavioral health services. Summit Pointe works with four local school districts: Pennfield Schools, Lakeview Community Schools, Harper Creek Community Schools, and Union City Community Schools. Clinicians work daily in both middle and high schools in most of those districts having offices right within the schools. 

Summit Pointe clinicians work hand-in-hand with school officials, Deal notes. Districts also have been able to take advantage of grant funding for additional staff for counseling, other behavioral health supports, and additional mental health therapists with Summit Pointe clinicians developing strong partnerships with those staff people. 

Angela Deal“It’s almost like an outpatient clinic in a school setting,” Deal says. “Students come out of class. They see their therapist for an allotted amount of time and then go back to class, which has been really helpful in school wellness.”

Also essential, wraparound services help tie together all the providers and facilitate communication.

More recently, Summit Pointe has added the national evidence-based model Parent Through Change. In group settings, parents and caregivers engage in a step-by-step learning process, giving them tools to guide young people productively through a host of potential problem behaviors such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct problems, problems associated with ADHD, substance abuse, depression, delinquency, and academic challenges.

Deal says that getting youth — or anyone — help is a lot easier these days. Summit Pointe operates First Steps, a 24/7 urgent care  where a person can come at their convenience, get assessed quickly, and connect to needed care.

“The next step is usually a referral into the youth services. We have our own internal team, which receives those referrals. We make contact with families, and immediately we get assessments done,” Deal says. “We really try to make sure that they're first referred to programs that they want to be in, and, second, that the program really fits their needs.”

A mental health library at Clague Middle School in Ann Arbor, funded by a mini-grant from Washtenaw County's mental health millage.

Washtenaw County: Listening to the youth

In 2017, Washtenaw County passed an eight-year Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage. About half of the funding is for mental health initiatives. Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) oversees that funding. 

Lisa Gentz“We have a multitude of strategies all across the lifespan, but in particular, one huge focus of our work is really on youth mental health services,” says Lisa Gentz, WCCMH program director. “So we have funded and/or participated in a whole host of creative projects to meet the needs of Washtenaw County.”

One initiative expanded eligibility criteria, which allows WCCMH and other county mental health partners to serve more individuals. One partner is Ozone House, a shelter for homeless youth. Another is the Corner Health Center, which provides affordable health care and wellness education.

WCCMH also partners with Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). Millage funding allows WISD to draw state funds, requiring matching funds. These provide resources for the increased mental health needs within the schools. WCCMH also provided mini-grants for student-led campaigns and has contributed to bringing in therapy animals.

Another partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department focuses on youth mental health, convening youth from the community to learn what they want or feel they need in mental health services, Gentz says.

In addition, WCCMH focuses on diversion strategies that redirect youth away from the juvenile justice system by providing them treatment instead of incarceration. The county is working to develop a youth assessment center. Using an evidence-based approach, the center will be designed to prevent and divert youth from juvenile justice and child welfare systems through a single point of contact, which identifies underlying issues and partners with youth and families to access individualized services and/or resources. 

Gentz says that a youth assessment planning committee is moving the assessment center closer to reality. And the recent signing of a state legislative package on recommendations from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s task force on juvenile justice reform supports the center. 

Joanne Bailey-Boorsma has 30-plus years of writing experience having served as a reporter and editor for several West Michigan publications, covering a variety of topics from local news to arts and entertainment. 

Masthead photo by Max Fischer via Intro photo Kat Wilcox via Pexels,com. Kathleen Gallagher photo by Nick Hagen. St. Clair County Community Mental Health and Debra Johnson photo courtesy St. Clair County Community Mental Health. First Steps Urgent Care photo by John Grap. Angela Deal photo courtesy Summit Pointe. Mental health library photo courtesy Washtenaw County.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research Transformation, LifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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