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Center seeks to head off violence

New Springfield program one of seven such in Ohio.Cooperation seen as cost-effective way to shore up system.

No one is under the illusion the planned Youth Crisis Respite Center here or any of the other six pilot programs Ohio is funding this year will eliminate the possibility of mass shootings of the sort that have horrified the nation.

“The reality is, you’re never going to catch every potentially violent act ahead of time,” said Kent Youngman, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties.

But, Youngman said, the odds are much better “if you can train folks, help them to become aware, then you have services available.”

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities awarded the $178,00 a year grant to identify youth at risk of violent acts against themselves or others and get them into treatment.

“Both of our departments are seeing increased numbers of calls from families really struggling with sons or daughters with aggressive behaviors,” said John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.

The respite center at Oesterlen hopes to provide a place where the children can be taken either for scheduled breaks from their families in an attempt to avoid crises, or during a crisis to interrupt it, and allow local professionals to develop a treatment plan.

Several well-publicized incidents have caused “a lot of news and a lot of heartache and trauma both for (the shooters’) families and the communities they’re in,” Martin said.

The local mental health and developmental disabilities agencies that combined for the grant gathered last week at Oesterlen Services for Youth. In addition to Youngman’s agency, that included Oesterlen, Developmental Disabilities of Clark County, the Family and Children First Councils of Clark and Greene Counties and the Madison County Family Council.

Kathryn LeVesconte, director of clinical and community services at Oesterlen, said the shooters who make the news “are at the extreme end of a continuum” of aggressive youth, most of whom act out in the settings of their families and local communities.

“Kids who act out violently come to that behavior from multiple causes,” she said. “They might have brain abnormality, they might have a history of being expo0sed to violence, either witnessing it or experiencing it themselves.”

According to its successful grant application, the Youth Crisis Respite Center could help those “who have both developmental disabilities and mental health issues; youth with families in which parents have multiple issues; and families with youth (who have) histories of abuse and neglect, leaving them with significant and unresolved emotional and behavioral problems.”

Martin said he thought the state’s ability to diagnose and identify problems is pretty good.

“Where I don’t think we are as good is the ability to respond immediately when a family is in crisis,” he said. “That’s where I think our system struggles.”

Youngman doesn’t entirely agree.

“Funding as a whole (for mental health) has gone down,” Youngman said, and with it “the ability really to be proactive.”

Mental health agencies are less able to work with schools, where problem behaviors often emerge, and schools themselves have fewer counselors and school nurses than in the past.

There’s reason to believe the state hopes to fortify that system by getting local agencies to work more closely with one another, something the request for the current grants encouraged.

In announcing the grants, Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said, “Our focus was to engage our local systems and encourage community driven solutions that combine knowledge and leadership across agencies.”

Martin, Plouck’s counterpart in the developmental disabilities field, said that their departments purposely included fewer conditions on the proposals because “we wanted to see what kind of creative ideas would come from the communities.”

He said the state plans to look closely at results of the pilot programs and replicate the successful ones elsewhere in the state during Ohio’s next two-year budget.

Whatever Youngman’s reservations about the strength of the state’s current mental health infrastructure, he gives Gov. John Kasich full credit for his decision to accept expand Medicaid coverage, particularly for Ohio children.

Kasich funded the seven pilot projects with $5 million from the Ohio Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, a part of the federal Medicaid program.

Youngman said that if more children can be covered by broadening the pool of Medicaid services, “then there is a place to refer” them for treatment.

Today, he said, “there’s real difficulty in accessing youth psychiatric hospitalization. There are not many psychiatric beds available.”

Youngman is particularly hopeful about one aspect of the Youth Crisis Respite Center that will open in an old farmhouse on the grounds of Oesterlen after its renovation.

“If there’s one thing I think is innovative it’s that there is a live-in couple” at the facility, he said. “There will be some additional support staff. But when the kids come in, they will join a family … a model I think has a lot of potential.”

The annual operating budget will be about $179,000, which the proposal says can be more than offset if the respite care prevents four area youth from six-month placements in a residential facility during the course of a year.

Renovation of the farmhouse that will house the center is expected to cost about $100,000.

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