“We have a federal grant — the Runaway Homeless Youth Grant — and because [mental health] services are so limited, we work with the community ... agencies to provide temporary mental health services for free,” Angela James, the recently named Flowering Branch Shelter director and licensed professional counselor, said.
She said the agencies her organization works with include, for example, the juvenile court system and the Department of Family and Childrens’ Services.
“Let’s say juvenile court and [the Department of Juvenile Justice] have a child who has charges and the court looks at the child and [determines] there might be some things going on at home that are stressing the child out, there may be some unhealthy dynamics, the child may need some services as far as mental health treatment or [medications] that the parents or guardian are not providing,” James said. “Then [the agency] might call and ask if I can take the child under the grant ... and see if we can stabilize the child.
“... We’ll take those kids and see if we can get counseling started, sometimes I provide that service, and that has been a huge resource to the community.”
Flowering Branch is the only facility in the state to receive the grant.
Advocates has on staff a clinical professional team that includes James as well as case manager Lyndsey Reed, who together are qualified to assess and treat the mental health needs of the children being served by the nonprofit’s programs.
“We are able to assess the kids and provide ongoing treatment as far as making recommendations to the court and other agencies, and that’s a new thing we’re doing is really trying to make a focus on those type of services,” James said.
She said having the grant makes possible to further address the underlying problems facing some youth who are in the court system.
“It is quite a rare thing that we have that opportunity to provide that service and it keeps a lot of kids out of state custody and it keeps a lot of kids out of the [Regional Youth Development Center] who don’t need to be there ... when really what’s going on is mental health or family abuse or something like that and the kids don’t need to be detained, they need services,” James said.
She said it’s important for parents to consider looking into public or private child mental health resources before a child becomes involved in the court system due to behaviors potentially sparked by mental illness.
“I think providing mental health services to children we see those behaviors starting to manifest, whether they are delinquent behaviors, whether they are violence, aggression, anger, drug use ... instead of being quick to be punitive toward getting them involved in the court system, we need to provide assessment and services and see if we’re dealing with a mental health issue or something more related to mood and less behavioral,” James said.
For more information, visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities at http://dbhdd.georgia.gov/children-adolescents.