Clark County gets $1M, first-of-its-kind program to treat kids

Oesterlen Services for Youth kicked off a new $1 million pilot program Wednesday designed to provide services to children who otherwise might fall through the cracks of the state’s mental health and developmental disabilities systems.

State and local leaders described the new program as the first of its kind in the state that brings 15 news jobs with it.

It’s designed to provide intensive treatment for a select group of adolescents who are on the autistic spectrum.

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If successful, state and local leaders said they plan to spread it to similar facilities in Ohio. Oesterlen is a mental health, behavioral health and social services agency that serves roughly 1,000 children and their families each year.

“We’re doing it to learn so we can replicate it,” Ohio Director of Developmental Disabilities John Martin said of the pilot program.

Existing state programs generally do a good job of serving adolescents with mental health or developmental disabilities, Martin said. But a smaller population of patients face more complicated challenges that aren’t easily addressed by existing programs.

And because each agency has different rules and funding streams, he said some adolescents could fall through the cracks as they deal with multiple state and local organizations. Oesterlen’s new program is designed to provide a place for youth who cannot be well served at home or school and all other resources have been exhausted.

Along with developing treatments for each individual, one of the program’s goals is to find ways to improve funding between various agencies to better serve residents.

“We hope its a long-term thing and we develop better systems for funding it,” Martin said.

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Typically those admitted to the program will receive intensive in-patient treatment for about 90 days, said Bonnie Kinnunen, director of church relations and development at Oesterlen. The lessons learned during the treatment can then be replicated when the child returns to their family or community.

It will serve teens throughout Ohio who would be a good fit for the program, she said.

Local Family and Children First Councils from around the state will refer children they believe will be a good fit. Those councils are made up of representatives from several local agencies and coordinate services for local families.

“Our goal is to have the child for a short period of time and help learn what works best for each child,” Kinnunen said.

Oesterlen also refurbished a cottage on its campus to provide space for up to six teens. Renovations includes replacing fluorescent lighting with quieter LED lights and special panels to absorb sound.

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It also includes an indoor recreation room with a basketball hoop and a small sensory room. Each bed in the facility has a handmade quilt, which the teens in the program can take home at the end of their treatment.

Oesterlen was one of five facilities that competed for the pilot program. Oesterlen was a good fit because it had open cottage space for the renovations and because of its history serving families in the region.

“It was a place looking for something to happen,” Kinnunen said of the cottage. “Oesterlen was uniquely situated.”

By the numbers:

$1 million — Estimated cost of new program

15 — Anticipated new employees

100 — Full-time staff at Oesterlen

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