More students experiencing a mental health crisis in Douglas County schools will soon have access to trained responders after county commissioners funded an expansion of the Youth Community Response Team on May 3.
The Youth Community Response Team, which pairs mental health clinicians with law enforcement to help people crises, currently serves 42 schools in the county. With the additional funding to creat a second YCRT team, the program will be able to serve all 92 schools in the district, including private and charter schools.
“We have seen — since the initiation of the pilot of the community response team — a really great added layer of support for our students,” said Stephanie Crawford-Goetz, the mental health director for Douglas County School District. “We’re getting really good at having all eyes on kids, making connections and knowing when they’re presenting signs that they’re at risk.”
The YCRT is an expansion on the country’s original Community Response Team, which began in 2017 and also pairs law enforcement with clinicians to stabilize mental health crises in the county.
“Having two specialized teams means that the YCRT team will no longer have to prioritize which call they want to respond to,” said Maggie Cooper, special projects manager for the county.
The commissioners unanimously approved a motion to reallocate about $417,000 for the second youth team. That funding will provide a clinician and case manager for three years. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has agreed they can provide an existing deputy for the program this year but may need to hire a new employee for the position beginning in 2023.
“When you put the story of the real benefit, the real lives that have been impacted, that’s why I think this is such a good investment,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said in the meeting. “Because it’s not only an investment in the schools, it’s an investment in the future.”
In 2021, the YCRT treated 71 children on site and placed 26 into treatment facilities. In that whole year, the team responded to 290 referrals, according to a memo about the team. In the first two months of this year, the team responded to 111 referrals.
“This upward trend is likely to continue with children and youth returning to in-person learning,” according to the memo.
Following the deadly STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting in 2019, the county dedicated $13 million for school safety initiatives, including $823,000 earmarked for mental health services. So far, about $185,000 of that has been spent on surveys, social-emotional curriculum and safety trainings.
During the meeting, Commissioner Abe Laydon asked Crawford-Goetz about why the majority of county funding for mental health initiatives has not yet been utilized. She responded that the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the rollout of some of their plans but they are still working on carrying out other portions of their initiative.
Laydon said he hopes to see programs where students struggling have some kind of intervention before it becomes a crisis.
“I would be okay with this as long as I think there’s an understanding that you are doing some measure of significant peer support from other sources,” Laydon said.
Crawford-Goetz said it is their priority in these situations.
“First and foremost is prevention, early intervention, being proactive, reaching all of our students before it needs to get to a point where students are in crisis,” she said. “That is where we want to focus the majority of our efforts but we know that there will always be a segment of our population that has intensive needs and we want to be responsible for them as well.”
The initial Youth Crisis Response Team was created in November 2019, just a few months after the STEM shooting.
After students are connected with the youth team, they decide the best way to meet their immediate needs. Then, the student continues to be monitored and contacted by a case manager.
“That’s been phenomenal to follow families and make sure that once they’ve had an initial crisis that they continue to get support and hopefully don’t have a repeat crisis,” Crawford-Goetz said. “What we found with this is that kids could stay in school. They didn’t have to be transported as much.”
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