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Another Voice: Role of families is key in addressing children’s mental health needs

By Sarah Taylor

Helping youth with mental health and behavioral challenges thrive in home and community settings is one of the most challenging issues in our mental system today. In the past, we too often relied on moving the child out of the home into a treatment facility and away from the loving support of the family.

New Directions Youth and Family Services is participating in a new program that integrates evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound with the state’s Medicaid Health Homes Serving Children program for youth with serious emotional disturbances, ages 12-21.

The new program, New York State Systems of Care, which is being supported through a federal grant and is being implemented through New York State Office of Mental Health, is part of the state’s health care reform efforts. Locally, the Erie County Department of Mental Health collaborates with various agencies, including New Directions Youth and Family Services in serving these at-risk children.

Erie County was selected in part based on past successes in implementing systems of care initiatives for at-risk children, including incorporating youth and family voices into policies and practices. The program is intended to better serve youth and young adults with the highest and most complex needs in home and community settings.

The foundation of the program is built on the evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound model. Data nationally supports the effectiveness of this model where families work with a team facilitator to establish their own unique child and family team. The team can be comprised of family members, schools, doctors and any other service providers. The team meets every 30 days to keep on track, with the family vision as the focus.

One of the great things about the program is that all youth are linked with a peer who has had similar life experiences. Similarly, parents and caregivers are linked with a peer who also has had similar experiences with youth with special needs.

This triad model of a team facilitator, youth peer advocate and family peer advocate brings a unique service delivery model that empowers the family, maintains a focus on family strengths and reinforces the principles of the wraparound process model. The program also has flexible funding available to assist the team with being creative to overcome barriers and address unmet needs.

We would encourage any family looking for support for their child through the system of care program contact the Erie County Family Voices Network. Results of the systems of care program have been promising. It is our hope that the success of the program in Erie County will lend itself to replication across New York State.

We know this much is true: there is no replacement for a loving and nurturing family setting to help our most vulnerable children.

Sarah Taylor Ed.M. is director of care coordination at New Directions Youth and Family Services.

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