ROCKVILLE – The importance of mental health services for children was made apparent after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and, more recently, the sniper attacks centered in the Washington, D.C., region.
In both cases, the juveniles involved may have needed and benefited from someone capable of detecting unhealthy behaviors before the tragedies took place.
Three Montgomery County agencies want to do more than just improve mental health services for children. They are aiming to establish an entire mental health system specifically targeting children.
The Core Service Agency, Montgomery County Public Schools and the Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families presented an update of a plan for such a system at a Montgomery County Council meeting Thursday.
“Maybe less in Montgomery County than in the nation, but the mental health system is collapsing piece by piece,” said Montgomery County Councilman Blair Ewing.
The groups began working together in December and presented a preliminary plan to the County Council in July. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Mental Health asked the County Council to have the groups answer some questions before the final plan is submitted early next year.
“The concern across the state is that mental health in general is under- funded,” said Daryl Plevy, acting chief of mental health and substance abuse services for the county.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force said it was confused about the roles that Collaboration Council and the Core Service Agency would play.
The Collaboration Council is responsible for health care for children, youth and their families, but the Core Service Agency is responsible for mental health specifically.
The Collaboration Council, which oversees the planning of youth services in Montgomery County, drafted the mental health plan for children and youth this summer.
In September, the council participated in a statewide assessment of 30 agencies that provide early childhood mental health services. The results of the assessments will be available by the end of the year.
Both the Collaboration Council and the Core Service Agency along with community groups, the school system and representatives from the justice system participate in work groups to address children’s mental health issues.
Montgomery County has many effective programs already in place, and is better off than most other states, but problems still exist, Plevy said.
This year, Montgomery County Public Schools obtained money to create programs and improve services for schools.
The Red Flags program, begun this semester, addresses teen depression and provides students with mental health resources.
Montgomery County schools recently instituted a mental health pilot program for Gaithersburg schools.
All Montgomery County Schools are assigned one or more psychologists. The system wants to change how psychologists are assigned and make criteria for placement based on school needs. This fiscal year, three psychologists and two social workers were added to the budget.
The Core Service Agency is also trying to track all children who are receiving public mental health services.
“I think we have a national problem and the county has a obligation to be in the business of identifying what we can do and then do it,” said Plevy. “We are making progress locally, but we still have a ways to go.”
The groups will present more of the plan, including estimated cost and timelines, Jan. 15.