Child psychologist working with a child and his mother

Grant Helping to Expand Behavioral Health Access for Kids in Northwestern Michigan

When the little girl first came to Child & Family Services (CFS) of Northwestern Michigan, it was clear she needed help.

Her mother’s parental rights had been terminated and her custodial grandmother described a child who couldn’t regulate herself emotionally at home, at school or in any social situation.

“She just couldn’t make friends, couldn’t engage in a positive way with her peers or her teachers,” said Paula Smith, director of behavioral health, CFS.

A comprehensive trauma assessment was undertaken. The daylong process involves many health professionals who dig for traumatic events that happened in the past or are ongoing for a child. By looking at a variety of factors, they’re trying to answer a complicated question: What happened to this child and what do they need to be well?

At the end of the assessment, a report is generated and shared with every adult the child routinely interacts with. It has recommendations for how to approach behavior in different ways and offers support to teachers, family members, physicians and others on how to best help.

With buy-in from the adults in her life, the eight-year-old made amazing progress. Her grandmother remarked that she had ‘a new child in my home,’ Smith recounted.

A $25,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation will help CFS provide increased access to affordable trauma-informed behavioral health services in rural northern Michigan. The nonprofit serves more than 20 counties in Northern Michigan through foster care and adoption services, counseling services, a youth shelter and other wraparound programs.

Smith said the funding will help children and youth avoid disruptions to services when they go through a family transition due to changes in foster care or adoption status. She points to a recent example of a sibling group able to continue therapy that was working for them throughout parental termination, foster care and subsequent adoption.

“The (grant funding) could be used for cases like that to help cover therapeutic intervention that benefits the children at a time when they’re going through this challenging transition,” she said. “Having those funds available to bridge the deficit allows for circumstances like that when we’re either uninsured or underinsured.”

In addition to helping children through their trauma, CFS is committed to family reunification for foster children when possible. That means counseling services are also available to parents in need.

“Sometimes we see biological parents of kids in foster care. We work to help them improve their parenting capacity,” Smith said. “Sometimes that means helping those parents with their own childhood traumas and helping them understand their children’s trauma.”

Making sure children and teens have access to behavioral health services is important to their long-term wellbeing. Left unresolved, Smith said children with trauma tend to have difficulties in the classroom, are more likely to be truant and break the law and are also at a higher risk of suicide and self-harm.

Eliminating barriers to mental health services is good for kids, families and their communities.

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Photo credit: Sladic

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