School-based mental health programs in county are working

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

County services for families and children are making a positive difference.

“Because of the new school-based mental health programs, there is a definite improvement from where it was five years ago,” Social Services Supervisor Melanie Erickson told the County Board, March 3. “We are, as child protection, recognizing the need. We have some pretty traumatized kids in foster care. They’ve experienced domestic violence and are really struggling.”

Erickson pointed out that before the school-based programs were in place, many of the children now being helped were not identified.

“We like to reach those kids early,” said Erickson. “That has a direct impact on reducing the number of kids in corrections.”

The county is part of a collaborative with Northern Pines Mental Health Center and area school districts. Northern Pines health care workers provide services at all schools in the county.

With the program in place, more students are being identified who benefit from the program. In 2009, 91 referrals; that number rose to 127 in 2013.

“The collaborative is working,” said Social Services Director Brad Vold.

At the same time, the number of children in need of protective services is falling. Social Services makes every effort to keep children in their homes if at all possible.

“We ask ourselves if, when we are not placing kids (out of their homes), we are putting kids at risk — or are we placing too soon,” Vold said.

“Anecdotal evidence is showing that in the last year, kids in family situations are looking really good,” said Erickson. “Sometimes we have to do a placement anyway, but when it’s a family placement there is a smoother transition.”

The improvements are due in large part to the hiring of one additional staff person in 2013, approved by the County Board, said Vold.

“Our staff were spending so much more time on paperwork,” he said. “The new full-time social worker spends more time with families. This also saves time for the other stakeholders involved — county attorney, judges, guardians ad litem, court administration.”