Voices’ Blog

Support a Statewide Alternative Transportation System for Children and Adults in Mental Health Crisis

Posted:  -  By: Ashley Airington

In Virginia, children and adults experiencing a mental health crisis are often transported to a mental health facility by law enforcement. During transport, children are frequently handcuffed and sometimes shackled in the back of a police car. This criminalization of children’s crises often results in traumatization and stigmatization. This experience can deepen their crisis, compromise their treatment, and make them and their families less willing to call for help if another crisis occurs.

This process also puts under-appreciated stresses on law enforcement throughout the state, particularly those in rural areas. The time required to serve and transport individuals with Temporary Detention Orders (TDO) can consume many hours—taking law enforcement away from their primary community law enforcement duties.

In 2015, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) implemented an alternative transportation pilot for adults under a TDO at Mt. Rogers Community Services Board in Southwest Virginia. Per the criteria developed in Virginia, drivers wore plain clothes and were unarmed, were trained in mental health first aid and crisis intervention, drove unmarked vehicles, and were prohibited from using restraints during transportation.

During the 14-month pilot program, 41 percent of adults under a TDO were transported by the alternative transport company. However, as the local magistrate and CSB developed familiarity and comfort with the use of alternative transportation, the number of TDO transports provided by alternative transportation rose to more than 50 percent by the end of the pilot.

The use of alternative transport resulted in trauma reduction and destigmatization for individuals in crisis and lifted a significant burden from local law enforcement. Importantly, every individual transported by the alternative provider safely arrived at his/her destination without incident.

In 2017, the General Assembly commissioned an interagency task force to study the efficacy and implementation of a statewide alternative transportation system to serve individuals in mental health crisis. The task force confirmed in its report that a statewide system is viable and produces better outcomes for all involved.

The task force agreed on an alternative transportation model that implements a regionally based transportation service within each of the five primary DBHDS regions, with state oversight and certification of providers. During the summer, Voices for Virginia’s Children and Legal Aid Justice Center worked with DBHDS on a recommendation that children be included in a statewide model for alternative transportation.

This report was presented to the SJ47 Joint Subcommittee (Deeds Commission), which subsequently recommended a $10 million budget request to fund a statewide alternative transportation system for children and adults in mental health crisis.

Extensive research about alternative transportation systems for youth during crisis showed that no other state has developed a statewide model to address this issue. Virginia has the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing and implementing a recovery-focused and trauma-informed model for children and adults during crisis.

With endorsements from law enforcement, mental health advocates, and the SJ47 Joint Subcommittee, we ask the General Assembly to support a budget package that builds on the success of the Southwest Virginia pilot and includes funding to implement a statewide, trauma-informed alternative transportation system for individuals under a TDO.

During the 2018 General Assembly session, a number of budget amendments that will fund a statewide alternative transportation model are under consideration. Read more about these amendments here.

Check out our one-pager on this policy issue. 


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