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Meeker County has new youth mobile crisis team

Sept. 22, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

MEEKER COUNTY, MN – Meeker County has a new service, a Youth Mobile Crisis team, that began in August.

The crisis team provides services to youth under 18 who may be out of control emotionally or behaviorally, unable to cope with life’s daily problems, experiencing incapacitating anxiety or depression, contemplating self-harm or suicide, experiencing thoughts of causing harm to others, and lacking adequate support in the community.

Dr. Gene Bonynge of Woodland Centers in Willmar is providing the crisis team for the county. He was invited by Social Services Director Clark Gustafson to tell the county board of commissioners Tuesday about the new service. Woodland Centers is a 50-year-old facility that contracts with six counties in the region for many mental health services.

The mobile response team of two mental health practitioners will be available noon to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. There will be no billing to parents for these services, Bonynge said.

“Youth mobile crisis offers an alternative to the residential crisis center for those parents who would like their child to remain at home, but need assistance in dealing with their child’s current crisis situation,” he said.

Often parents will call 911 in a situation needing the crisis team, County Commissioner Amy Wilde said. She asked if the county sheriff’s office has been informed of the service.

Bonynge responded that it has, and parents may continue to call 911 in a crisis. However, the team is not allowed to intervene physically or provide transportation, he said.

Meeker County spent about $422,000 in 2007 with Woodland Centers. The cost is based on per capita, the county’s membership with Woodland Centers, and services rendered, Gustafson said.

In addition, Gustafson invited Social Services Supervisor Pat Thomas to report to the county board on the success of another mental health program for youth.

There were 19 youths served between July 2007 and July 2008, for a total cost of $22,507, in a program for youths who are at risk of being emotionally disturbed, but haven’t received a diagnosis yet. The program, managed by Kirk Arndt of Greater Minnesota Family Based Service, turned out to be very cost-effective, Thomas said.

Wilde agreed. The program spent approximately $1,000 per youth per year. If the youths had been institutionalized, the program would have cost $4,000 a month per youth, she said.

The majority of the youths were boys. Those who had ADHD and oppositional defiance problems had third-party insurance covering their cost to the program, Thomas said.

Also, Arndt specializes in helping youths with sexual predation problems, usually an expensive condition to treat. For example, youths who are sexual predators are sent to a Minnehaha facility that costs $350 a day, Gustafson said.

Thomas also reported on child protection statistics. Compared to the state average of 60 percent completed interventions with families that have problems with truancy, poor supervision or “dirty houses,” Meeker County has 80 percent completed interventions.

The intervention of a social worker in the family prevents the children and family members from ending up in court and law enforcement, she said.

Interventions are not used, however, if there is sex abuse or criminal activity, Thomas added.

Not all was good news, though. Children’s justice tightened up the time line children can be held in foster care when there is a problem in the family. However, safety regulations for the homes of relatives are so rigorous, few relatives of the children are willing to take them, Gustafson said.

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