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Stark County youth mobile response team helps kids in crisis

Canton Repository - 2/8/2020

Whenever a young person is having a crisis, wherever they are in Stark County, a mental health counselor is less than an hour away.

The youth mobile response team started in late 2017 to enhance the county's 24-7 crisis hot line. Most of the time the team responds to calls from schools and police departments, but the professionals involved said anyone can pick up the phone to get a child help: A parent, a friend, a young person in crisis.

"Call us," said Brittany Reed, director of mobile response for Coleman Crisis Services.

How it works

Funded in part by Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery, the team started with the Crisis Intervention and Recovery Center in late 2017. Coleman Crisis Services has run the team since 2018. A similar program is available for adults.

When a call comes in, the youth mobile response team gathers basic information over the phone and sends out a counselor, often times with a case manager or a family support specialist, to the child in crisis.

The average response time is 19 minutes, depending on how far the child is from Coleman's office at 2421 12th Street NW.

"If the call comes in, we go out," said Chris Miller, youth mobile response team leader. "There's not really a 'no' when it comes to that."

When team members respond to a scene, they talk with the youth, parents and others to see what needs to be done to keep the young person safe. They also connect the family to the appropriate mental health services. Hospitalization is a last resort.

A case manager and a family support specialist then follow up with the youth and their family to bridge the gap between the crisis and any outpatient treatment.

"It's really important to have a go-to person when your child is experiencing something that might frighten you and you don't know how to help them," said Julie Gough, the family support specialist. "That is my role, to help support them through this process. It's nice to have someone in your corner."

The team's services are billed on a sliding scale, and no one will be refused service if they can't pay or don't have insurance.

StarkMHAR supports the team with $111,000 in local tax dollars and up to $180,000 in grant funding.

Reaching parents

Suicidal thoughts, anxiety and self-harm are the most common reasons the team is called. The children they see usually range in age from 8 to 17.

But the definition of crisis is much broader because "that means different things to different people," said Michele Boone, StarkMHAR's director of clinical services.

During the first half of the 2020 fiscal year-- July through December -- the team responded to 184 referrals or about 30 a month, according to Coleman statistics.

Schools accounted for 53% of referrals and police another 13%.

"It's been a godsend to us," said Sandy Valley Local Schools Superintendent David Fischer. "... Do I have guidance counselors who are trained to help kids cope? Absolutely. But when it's beyond our level of expertise, to have that next level, is phenomenal."

Families have made only 12% of referrals.

"I think our struggle is, how do we reach the families and get the word to the families directly?" Reed said. "... A lot of families will just take their youth straight to the ER or Akron Children's Hospital, and that might not necessarily be what that kid needs. A lot of times they won't be hospitalized or given resources, so then they're back at home with no support."

While the team is designed to respond an urgent crisis, it also can schedule meetings and consultations with families who are looking for additional support.

Miller said the team recently got a call from a family that had just moved to Stark County. The family had received mental health services in their former community and wanted to know what was available in this area.

Shannon Laughlin, a case manager, said the public should also know that the youth mobile response team is a stand-alone entity.

"We're not a part of the schools or Child Protective Services or anything like that because sometimes that deters people from calling," Lauglin said.

To contact the adult and youth mobile response teams, call 330-452-6000.

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