Building Bridges to Mental Health Care

With a new year upon us, we have a fresh opportunity to review our past and see what BCAC can do in the coming year to improve the responses we provide for children who have experienced abuse and trauma. 2015 provided more than its share of unwelcome challenges and we continue to address those issues uncovered every day. One of those challenges is the increasing need to make successful mental health care referrals for the children our Center provides assistance to every day.

Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but BCAC is not in the position to directly provide every child with ongoing mental health services. The need is simply too great. However, we’re pleased to be able to work with a wide network of referral agencies: Advanced Therapeutic Connections, Baltimore Counseling Center, Change Health, Chesapeake Treatment Center, Empowering Minds Resource Center, Family & Children’s Services of Central Maryland, Hopkins Bayview, Kennedy Krieger Family Center, Key Point Health Services, King Health, Pro Bono Counseling Project, Therapeutic Living for Families, THRIVE, Time Organization, Turnaround, the University of Maryland Care Clinic, and private providers. But success is not merely defined at BCAC as sharing a name and number with a family. Among the rated criteria for all Centers to maintain accreditation with the National Children’s Alliance is to ensure that “specialized trauma-focused mental health services, designed to meet the unique needs of the children and non-offending family members” are routinely made available, and there is consistent case tracking for each client that includes the status or outcome of medical and mental health care referrals. BCAC’s team of Family Advocates works hard to make successful connections for each family. And if the first referral doesn’t work, our team works with the family to try again.

And while upon reading this, you may assume that the suggestion of mental health care services for children is always well received by caregivers, I am sorry to report that it is not always the case. Unlike a physical injury or illness where the impact and symptoms are apparent, mental health is often unrecognized by the families visiting us. So much so, that researchers found in a recent study at an urban children’s advocacy center like BCAC, that Caregivers who did not link to services believed they were not necessary for their children. The most common reason cited was because the caregiver did observe behavioral symptoms in their children. Other reasons included the fear that therapy would re-traumatize or stigmatize their children, and a mistrust of the mental health system. (Caregiver perceptions about mental health services after child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 51, Issue null, Pages 284-294 Hiu-fai Fong, Colleen E. Bennett, Valerie Mondestin, Philip V. Scribano, Cynthia Mollen, Joanne N. Wood). Compounding the lack of perceived need are issues in finding transportation, the cost of mental health care services, and difficulty in finding the right provider.

BCAC aims to address this issue directly in 2016. We’ve created a concept to help build bridges for mental health for each family who has been identified as having a need. But we cannot accomplish this on our own. Current funding only covers our core forensic crisis services, and many thanks to those of you who stepped up and joined our Campaign for Baltimore’s Children to help address this gap.

Additionally, BCAC is looking to create new and strengthen current partnerships with  referral agencies, foundations, schools and governmental agencies who can help, so we can ensure every child gets a completed mental health care services referral. Success in such a completed referral will result in reduced future negative outcomes from these Adverse Childhood Experiences which impact children’s health, school performance, neighborhood safety, and crime.

2016 is a new page in Baltimore’s history. To turn that page is not to forget Baltimore’s recent (and not so recent) past and work to address issues facing children throughout this city and region. As we turn that page here at BCAC, let’s be on the look for ways and solutions to not just report when a child reports abuse, but also to respond to send children and families down a road towards healing.

Share with me your thoughts and solutions for mental health recovery and to build bridges for each child who needs help.

Let’s stay safe,