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Conn. takes first steps towards expanding capacity of children's mental health system

Connecticut is looking to improve its behavioral health system for children.  Gov. Dannel Malloy announced some first steps on Wednesday, following a comprehensive children’s mental health plan released last week.

The extensive plan released last week called for both long term restructuring of the state’s mental health system for kids, and some immediate steps that could be taken. Anne Foley, of the state’s Office of Policy and Management, says the governor was concerned to hear about an increase in the number of young people seeking help for mental health problems.

“Particularly, hospital emergency departments were feeling overwhelmed with the number of youth that were presenting, and they were experiencing some discharge delays,” Foley said.

Meaning hospitals were having trouble figuring out where to send these kids for more help. The new plan includes 11 recommendations in two areas.

“One of which is addressing the unique needs of youth with autism spectrum disorder," said Foley. "And the other is just building capacity within the children’s behavioral health system.”

For autistic kids, the plan includes money for specialized services and in-home support to keep them out of inpatient programs, as well as Medicaid coverage for treatment of autistic kids under 21.

One way the state hopes to build capacity for dealing with mental health issues is by expanding an existing program for responding to psychiatric emergencies. The new plan will put those staff directly in emergency rooms.

Dr. Jessica Welt is the director of Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services at The Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut. She says they often get calls about adolescents who are doing things like cutting themselves or having thoughts about suicide or hurting others.

“In those situations where it’s a risk of harms to one’s self, our assessment is really to determine if we can get this child and the family to plan for their safety and identify whether or not there’s sufficient factors for this child to be safe in the community,” Welt said.

There have been several suicides by young people in Fairfield County recently. And Welt says in the first three quarters of last year, the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut had about a 40 percent increase in emergency calls over the previous year.

Craig produces sound-rich features and breaking news coverage for WGBH News in Boston. His features have run nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on PRI's The World and Marketplace. Craig has won a number of national and regional awards for his reporting, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards in 2015, the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award feature reporting in 2011, first place awards in 2012 and 2009 from the national Public Radio News Directors Inc. and second place in 2007 from the national Society of Environmental Journalists. Craig is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Tufts University.
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