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Initiative aims to take next step in crisis response, connect children and families with mental health professional in 1 hour

Star-Herald - 5/9/2017

LINCOLN - Nebraska children and families in crisis can get help more quickly under a state behavioral health initiative announced Monday.

Officials said the initiative aims to connect families with a mental health professional - either in the family home or online - within an hour of calling for help.

Sheri Dawson, behavioral health director for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the youth crisis response effort builds on the support offered through the Nebraska Family Helpline.

"This is really taking that next step to make sure we have statewide access to crisis response," she said.

Dawson said the hope is that the immediate response can prevent children and families from needing more intensive - and expensive - services.

Similar crisis response for adults with behavioral health problems have succeeded at keeping about 75 percent of those adults out of hospitals or other intensive services, she said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the youth crisis response initiative grew out of work underway to develop a "system of care" model for youth behavioral health in Nebraska.

The model seeks to better coordinate services and supports for troubled children and their families, improve access to services, and make the system more effective and efficient.

A $12 million, four-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration supports the system of care work.

Dawson said the grant means that families will not have to pay for the crisis response services.

A family needing help with a troubled child would start by calling the Nebraska Family Helpline or one of the new phone lines that have been set up in each behavioral health region across the state.

In most cases, Dawson said, the mental health professionals answering the calls can help families work through their concerns or refer them for additional services.

But when an immediate response is needed, a mental health professional would go to the family's home within an hour of the call.

That therapist would talk with all family members to de-escalate the situation, help them figure out an immediate safety plan and refer them to other resources.

In more rural areas, where a therapist may not be close enough to respond in person, the family could connect through an Internet video connection, like Skype. Dawson said arrangements could be made to bring a laptop to the family's home if needed.

Beth Baxter, administrator of Region 3 Behavioral Health Services, said the crisis response therapist also could work with schools, probation officers, child welfare workers and others involved with a child and family.

"We know what's good for children and families is good for our communities and is good for our state," she said.

More than 37,000 children in Nebraska have behavioral health disorders, according to the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.

According to national reports, half of all lifetime mental illness begin at the average age of 14, and three quarters by age 24. Between 2 and 5 percent of children suffer serious mental health disorders that cause substantial impairment in functioning at home, at school or in the community., 402-473-9583


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