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Where to turn when your child has a mental health crisis? In Kent County, help comes to you.

May 30, 2018

There are few moments more stressful than witnessing your child in the grips of a mental health crisis.

In Kent County, parents who are in the middle of that situation can turn to the Children's Crisis Response Team operated by network180, the community mental health authority in Kent County.

Andrew Boekestein manages the team made up of mental health clinicians. He spoke with Stateside about the need for more services for kids experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Prior to the Children Crisis Response Team, Boekestein said parents had limited options when faced with an escalating situation. If a family wanted immediate assistance, they would either have to call the police, or transport their child to an emergency room or community mental health center. 

“Any parent who has had a child with intense needs knows that transferring a person in a mental health crisis is no fun,” he said. “And bringing them to an emergency department that is more geared toward physical health, while they will get good care there, isn’t the most comfortable setting.”

When children experiencing a mental health crisis are brought to an emergency room, Boekestein explained, they usually have to go through multiple rounds of screening before receiving any sort of treatment. 

And this treatment process is often times costly, especially for those without health insurance. 

“When you are in a crisis and you say, ‘I’ve got a child who says they don't want to live anymore and is going to take their own life,’ the next question can’t be, 'Okay what is your insurance?'” Boekestein added.

How is the Children Crisis Response Team different?

The network180 services are primarily designed for people who are uninsured or low income, and those on Medicaid. But Boekestein said anyone concerned about a child’s mental health can call in.

So what happens after a family member makes that call? 

Boekenstein said the information is collected over the phone, and then a team of two mental health clinicians is sent out to meet the family on site — often times at the family’s home or a school.

“Our first job is to help them settle down, and that's not always easy or straightforward,” Boekestein said.  “There is no manual that says exactly how to handle a crisis every time because every family is different. There are different stressors and risk factors driving each crisis. So we really take the time to meet with the child and the parent, and the siblings or the grandparent, whoever is in that child’s life and talk about what contributed to this crisis and what can help everyone feel a lot more safe.”

Once the crisis team leaves, they typically call back a few hours later to check in on the child. The next day they may call again or even visit the family again to ensure the situation is stabilized. 

The next step, Boekestein said, is coming up with a plan for long-term care. The team works to develop a plan with options beyond just placing a child in a highly supervised facility. 

“When we can intervene very early, and we can give them much more support and wrap around that family and that young person and give them — go to help immediately in their home — they might not need that intense locked facility to keep them safe,” Boekestein said. 

Is this service available in other counties?

According to Boekestein, Kent County's mobile crisis team model is becoming the norm in Michigan and across the country. 

“Some communities in the country, like Milwaukee or the whole state of Connecticut or New Jersey, have very robust children’s crisis model teams that have been working for many years or even decades,” Broekestein said. “And there are several teams popping up in Michigan that are doing the same work that we are.”

The state of Michigan and the Department of Health and Human Services are now mandating every community have a children's crisis mobile team as part of their mental health system. Boekestein says that means within a few years, every county in the state will have a team like the one in Kent County. 

Minding Michigan is Stateside’s ongoing series that examines mental health issues in our state.

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