'It Takes a Village' to Wrap Around Local Youth in Crisis, Parents in Survival Mode

“Lack of knowledge of mental health resources for children with anxiety, depression, trauma and suicidal behavior is a problem,” shares  Deana Mason, the program director for Community Mental Health for Central Michigan (CMHCM). Mason is working tirelessly to launch the organization’s Child Therapeutic Foster Care Program in Midland County, “Parents are faced with unthinkable decisions when their child experiences a mental health crisis. Parents are doing the best they can with what they know how to do and with what is out there. There is a misconception that if a child is in need of treatment that they must be broken. The child is not broken, and the family is not broken.” 
 Deana Mason is the program director for Community Mental Health for Central Michigan.
Mason notes how an alternative to psychiatric inpatient hospitalization for youth who are experiencing a mental health crisis would be highly beneficial to them and their families if Community Mental Health were able to recruit families or individuals to offer Child Therapeutic Foster Care in their homes. CMHCM typically has one to three children per year that would qualify for therapeutic foster care in Midland.
Community Mental Health is asking people in Midland to raise their hands to volunteer to take these kids into their homes and provide a level of support and care that cannot be found in an institution. Therapeutic Foster Care gives the child the opportunity to stay in their community, allows them to stay in school and provides support to their family. By wrapping around the entire family, the child in crisis and their permanent family learn how to navigate the path to positive mental health and personal safety. 
The therapeutic foster care program is in need of volunteers.
Currently, if a child is experiencing suicidal behavior, their families are asked to go to the local emergency room and wait to have their child placed in a psychiatric hospital unit or an institution somewhere in the state outside of Midland. Often, these children wait days for an open bed and to receive services. The current procedure removes the child from everything they know, to provide care, only to later return them to the same environment in which they left. Families are not actively a part of the healing process and are not provided with a level of support that is required to successfully reintegrate their child into their permanent family and community.

Child Therapeutic Foster Care is a voluntary mental health service, separate from court ordered foster care, available to Serious Emotional Disturbance Waiver recipients.  That waiver provides additional Medicaid services for children through age 20 who are diagnosed with a serious emotional disturbance. Child Therapeutic Foster Care offers an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization or other mental health placement.

The goal is to keep youth in their home community while maintaining intensive community-based treatment. Youth will also receive Community Mental Health for Central Michigan home based mental health services, as well as wraparound facilitation services. They are also eligible for (and encouraged to utilize) parent support partner services. Parent support partner services are parents, or primary caregivers, with first-hand experience navigating public child serving agencies and raising a child with mental health or developmental challenges.

The wraparound process is a collaborative, team-based approach to service and support planning. Through the program, teams create plans to meet the needs of children and youth with complex needs and their families. The wraparound team members - the youth, permanent family, community members, mental health professionals, educators, and others meet regularly to design, implement, and monitor a plan to meet the unique needs of the child and family. 

As of now, Community Mental Health for Central Michigan has zero therapeutic foster care providers in Midland, but has a significant need. “The ideal family or individual that we are looking for just has to show an interest. They don’t have to be experts. We will train them and provide support,” says Elizabeth Davis, Supervisor for Community Mental Health for Central Michigan. She encourages anyone who is interested in learning more to call their office. The provider does need to become a licensed foster care home but will have full support from the organization. Davis says, “These kids need stability and consistency. People need to have a certain level of patience and they need to stick around, but by no means do they have to be an expert. The commitment to have a child in your home is six to twelve months and only one child (in crisis) would be placed in the home at a time.” Davis knows that parents are overwhelmed and may not know where to turn. “If you think your child needs services, call us at CMH. Call your school. There are youth intervention specialists in place to help these kids and their families.”

Other counties in Michigan run Child Therapeutic Foster Care programs successfully using the wraparound process and have become somewhat of a mentor for Midland. Ingham County, serving the Lansing area, is currently thriving in the providing of these services. Their larger population is believed to be a part of their success as Midland is relatively small in numbers by comparison.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Child Therapeutic Foster Care provider, please call: 989.631.2320 and ask to speak with the program director.
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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and held positions at Dow, Northwood University, Midland Area Community Foundation, Shelterhouse and Youth For Understanding. Currently, Carly is working as the Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Relationships at Holy Cross Services while completing her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at carlylillard@gmail.com.