A pilot program to help keep kids out of the emergency room during mental health crises has had a larger impact than its leaders expected.
Since the Missoula Youth Crisis Diversion Project began in November 2013, more than 50 families have been helped to manage mental health crises and keep their kids out of the ER – or from being sent out-of-state for treatment, said Ashley Marallo, project coordinator.
The number of those helped is significantly higher than the 20 to 30 families Marallo anticipated helping during the first year of the program.
“And I think the need is much higher than that,” she said, adding that over the course of a year, 100 kids who arrived at an area hospital were not admitted. More work is needed to show where those kids are going.
A website launched in September also provides a one-stop shop for families and friends to find the best resources for each situation.
Between Sept. 15 and Jan. 15, 979 individuals visited the site, with thinking or talking about suicide, hurting self, not following rules or directions, physical aggression and drug use being the top 5 viewed behaviors.
The program’s goal is to fill voids in community services for kids and help families navigate those services. Of the 50 families helped to date, 26 kids have avoided placement with state-funded services, Marallo said.
The program is a pilot project and is pursuing a two-year extension of state funding, Marallo said, adding that the organization will reach out for grants if necessary to continue its work.
Sandy Cummins is the program’s crisis facilitator and jokingly likened herself to multi-colored duct tape.
“It’s not a cookie cutter,” she said about the approach families need.
Cummins goes to each family’s home and meets with them to best learn what will help most, whether that be help navigating Medicaid, counseling, parenting classes, social services, or help bridging the transition from child services to adult services. Then she follows up to make sure families actually use the services, creating a continuum of care.
Sometimes families need short-term, out-of-home placements for children to help stabilize the crisis or longer, as was the case for Angie Cobler and her family.
When Cobler adopted her three grandchildren after they had been in foster care because of abusive home situations, she didn’t expect the eldest’s aggressive outbursts to reach a point where she had to call the police for help or take him to the hospital.
Step up and be a parent, people told her about the boy's pushing and hitting, she remembers.
After several hospital visits, Cummins got involved and it was determined that Cobler’s 10-year-old grandson was dealing with attachment disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cummins helped the family find temporary and then residential placement for the grandson, as well as connect the family with counseling services for one of the younger siblings.
“I call her my guardian angel,” Cobler said about Cummins, adding she doesn’t know what would have happened to her family without the Youth Diversion Project’s services.
“If we don’t get this help now, he could end up in jail, dead. We have to look at the big picture,” she said.
Ultimately, Cobler wants her grandson to return home, having learned how to cope with the anger that almost tore the family apart.
“If it wasn’t for (the program), I don’t know where we would have been,” she said.
Cobler’s sentiments are not unusual, Marallo said.
“We’ve heard a lot that it gave families hope,” she said.
“Any family that feels like they’ve exhausted their resources and they don’t know what to do, it’s worth a phone call,” Marallo said, adding that referrals can come from anywhere.
For more information, go to missoulayouthcrisis.org.