In Westchester County, NY: "A Way of Doing" with Everyone Involved
Kids who set fires. Kids with sexually aggressive behavior. Kids with both developmental disabilities and mental health problems. Those were the kinds of children that Myra Alfreds, M.S.W., and her team in White Plains, NY, set out to help.
Children’s Mental Health Services at the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health received a 6-year Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services Program for Children and Their Families grant from SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) in 1999. (See Coordinating Care for Children with Serious Mental Health Challenges.)
“The grant allowed us to work with children with serious emotional and behavioral problems at the highest end of need, children who had before that time been referred to residential treatment,” explained Ms. Alfreds, who is the Director of the program.
A system of care called the Westchester Community Network was the result of that grant. The Network serves families who require help from more than one system or agency. At the system’s heart are networks in 10 of the county’s communities.
These networks bring together families, service providers, and anyone else a family requests to craft individualized plans to meet families’ needs.
“A system of care is not a program, a project, or another initiative,” Ms. Alfreds explained. “It’s a way of doing what you’re doing throughout your entire child-serving system in a way that connects everybody.”
Throughout the process, the emphasis is on families themselves. Family Ties of Westchester serves families of children with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric problems. This nonprofit organization operates seven walk-in family resource centers, offers support groups, and provides other support services. Serving as community hubs, the resource centers encourage families who have been past recipients of services to help families just coming into the system.
Westchester County’s system of care also encompasses a peer-run support program called Youth Forum, which offers discussion sessions and recreational outings to young adults age 17 to 24.
“This really is a family movement,” emphasized Ms. Alfreds. “Our system is completely driven by what families and young people say they need and want.”
Although its CMHS funding ended in 2005, Westchester County’s system of care is still thriving. The initiative replaced all of its Federal funding with money from the county and state, said Ms. Alfreds. And its approach proved so successful that CMHS made Westchester County’s Children’s Mental Health Services a “team learning center” that helps other communities learn how to develop their own systems of care.
SAMHSA’s Web site offers more information on Systems of Care. Read more about the Children’s Mental Health Services program in Westchester County, NY.