Mental health providers seek to ‘bring kids home’

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007

Mental health care providers and social services workers from around the Kenai Peninsula gathered Friday to talk about how they can “Bring the Kids Home.”

Assembled for a one-day summit with that title, 36 social workers met with representatives from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services to discuss issues they face when trying to keep severely emotionally disturbed children here or when attempting to bring back kids sent out of state for residential psychiatric treatment.

Health and Social Services said of the 743 Alaska kids sent out of state for residential psychiatric treatment during fiscal year 2006, 71 were from the Kenai Peninsula.

Among the issues resulting in kids being sent out of Alaska are an insufficient number of care providers in Alaska, a lack of foster home beds, a lack of specialized services in Alaska for aggressive kids or children with eating disorders and a trend of decreasing grant funds for outpatient services, said Judy Helgeson, a utilization review specialist with DHSS.

Attending the summit from the Kenai Peninsula were providers from Central Peninsula Counseling Services, the Serenity House, Frontier Community Services, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, Probation Services, Homer Community Mental Health Center, Seward school officials, the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center and private practice psychologists.

According to a pie chart displayed by Helgeson, not having beds for the children is the biggest reason for sending them Outside for treatment, followed by high levels of aggression among the youth.

When the children are returned to Alaska from psychiatric treatment, Helgeson said many have difficulty being placed into foster care homes.

A profile of those experiencing placement trouble shows a large number — 43 of 68 — have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or suspected exposure to alcohol; many have experienced trauma, whether it’s sexual, physical, domestic violence or neglect; some experienced brain trauma; or have a family history of mental illness.

“Often the child is the identified ‘patient,’ but may not be the only one in the family that needs help,” Helgeson said.

The profile also showed the child can be Caucasian or Alaska Native.

Anne Gibson, also a DHSS utilization review specialist, described funding opportunities that might be available to service providers.

She said Individualized Service Agreements (ISA), made possible by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, provided $780,000 in fiscal year 2007, and propose $1.2 million for fiscal year 2008. An ISA is a provider agreement with the state for providing individual, specialized services for severely emotionally disturbed children.

To be eligible for ISA funding, Gibson said clients must be residents of Alaska, be younger than 22 years and must have been assessed by a mental health professional.

The ISA topic generated a great number of questions from providers attending the summit.

Gibson said, in order to qualify for ISA funding, services must be authorized as a medical necessity at intake or during the course of treatment by way of a continuation assessment.

Following formal presentations by Helgeson and Gibson, attendees were to break into small groups to identify community strengths and weaknesses, identify opportunities and resources available in the community, develop a list of solutions and develop a priority list to help implement solutions.

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