The following blog post was written by Margaret Nimmo Crowe, Campaign Coordinator, for the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s blog, Pundits’ Podium.
Consider the stress you would feel as the parent of an eight-year-old child with bipolar disorder, who has just been suspended from school for hitting his teachers and is going into a rage directed at you and his younger sister.
What would you do? Who could you call for help?
Sadly, you would not have many options in most parts of Virginia. Calling the police could lead to your child being driven to the hospital in handcuffs, a potentially traumatizing experience. The emergency room might not have a psychiatric bed; you could end up sending your child halfway across the state for treatment.
What if the children’s mental health system could provide better options for you and your child? What if it could prevent that ride in the back of a police car for your eight-year-old? What if it could avoid hospitalizing him at all?
Reducing our reliance on hospital-based crisis care is important because there simply aren’t enough facilities for the estimated 100,000 Virginia children with serious mental illness. Nor is it in the child’s best interest to leave his community for treatment. Research shows it is far more effective to treat children with mental health problems in their communities near their schools, families and friends.
The stress on Virginia’s families and on the children’s mental health system is nowhere more apparent than at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA) in Staunton. CCCA, the last remaining state-run children’s psychiatric hospital, is the last resort for kids who cannot be admitted to private hospitals.
Waitlists for beds at CCCA over the past several months indicate a system that is stressed to the breaking point. Discharges are delayed when clinicians cannot arrange for adequate services back home. Meanwhile, demand is increasing, causing a backup. One distressing trend is the increasing number of kids being readmitted; without adequate resources for help at home, they end up back in crisis.
Better options exist. The Richmond-area Community Services Boards (the public mental health system), in partnership with the private, nonprofit St. Joseph’s Villa, opened a children’s crisis stabilization unit five weeks ago. So far, ten children have been treated there, with the frequent involvement and support of their families. Clinicians are only able to transport children from their homes if they live in Richmond, Chesterfield or Henrico, but the program serves children from the entire region, including Goochland, Petersburg, Farmville, and Hanover.
When a child is in crisis, a clinician goes to his home to assess and counsel both child and family. If needed, the clinician can take the child to the new six-bed home at St. Joseph’s Villa for up to two weeks, avoiding hospitalization. For one child, the home has served as an effective transition service after psychiatric hospitalization. Treatment is available to children regardless of insurance status.
This year, Virginia lawmakers allocated more than $3 million so more communities can start or expand crisis services like this one. It is not enough funding for services across the Commonwealth, but it’s a big step in the right direction and a welcome development for stressed families trying to help their children with mental illness.
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