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Youth mental health resources explained

News-Topic - 3/10/2019

March 08-- Mar. 8--A mental health crisis center for youth recently opened in Asheville, hundreds of miles closer to Caldwell County than others are, officials learned Thursday morning.

But the biggest news to many at the Caldwell Child Collaborative meeting Thursday was that there already are a number of mental health services available locally that school, health care, and public safety officials did not know about.

Donald Reuss, a senior director of Vaya Health, which oversees mental health services in 23 western North Carolina counties, gave a presentation on the treatment options his company offers in Caldwell County. Vaya contracts with Youth Villages, a nonprofit organization that provides needs assessments for children who are referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice and then recommends the children to the appropriate health care services.

In Caldwell County, available services include outpatient treatment, residential care, and specialty programs that focus on assisting families and getting children in crisis back to their own homes, Reuss said.

All it takes is a phone call to Vaya, Reuss explained, and a child in need can be put on track for the correct treatment program.

Chad Lackey, chairman of the collaborative, was quick to take Reuss up on his offer.

"We really didn't know that some of these resources were here," he

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said. "But now you can expect a lot of calls soon about putting them to use."

Reuss said that the fact that many of the members of the collaborative had not known about these Vaya services speaks mostly to the sensitive, complex nature of handling youth treatment.

"But they are here nonetheless," he said, "If you call and ask, I can have a representative here tomorrow to begin an assessment or initiate a treatment program."

When the types of care that Vaya and Youth Villages use are not available, the typical process is for children in crisis to be admitted to the hospital. Once they are stabilized, Reuss said, 70 percent are then discharged to psychiatric residential treatment facilities -- which resemble group homes -- and then are bumped to a slightly lower level of care facility, then psychiatric foster care, and then, in the best cases, back to their own homes and communities.

But Reuss said that children can spend anywhere from three to six months at each of these stages, which means that one isolated episode might keep a child away from home for a year or more.

The point of the new mental health crisis center in Asheville, Caiyalynn Burrell Child Crisis Center, and Vaya's other treatment programs is to get children back in their own homes whenever it is safe to do so, he said.

Reuss said he hopes that his visit would educate an area that he worried is in need of these types of treatment.

"Typically, around 50 percent of youths in the DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) have a substance abuse problem," he said, but in Caldwell County, that number is around 10 percent -- but Reuss does not believe that is an accurate measure of substance abuse here.

Instead, he worries that it reflects that children are "slipping through the cracks" and not receiving the necessary resources. He told members of the collaborative about a survey he is sending out that will allow the community to identify the gaps in the local treatment system.

Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.


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