Rim Guidance Involves Family, Community In Youth Treatment Program

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According to the Children's Action Alliance, every day in Arizona, 87 teens drop out of school, 65 babies are born to teenage mothers, and 90 parents are reported for suspected abuse and neglect.

In fact, Arizona is ranked 49th nationally in high school dropouts, 48th in births to teenage mothers, 45th in overall child well-being, and 34th in teenage deaths.

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Jeff Gray, executive director of Rim Guidance, believes a community-based approach to children with behavioral health issues is an effective alternative to sending kids away to institutions for treatment.

Payson's Rim Guidance Center hopes to make at least a small dent in the disturbing statistics.

Rim Guidance, part of Southwest Behavioral Health Services, is trying a new strategy with the "Child and Family Team Method."

This comprehensive approach to treating severe behavioral problems provides an alternative to sending children away to residential treatment centers.

"When a child is unable to function, getting into trouble with the law -- causing severe disruption at home or in the class, especially in rural areas, the solution has been to ship them away for long periods of time to residential treatment or therapeutic group homes," Jeff Gray, executive director of Rim Guidance Center, said.

"Institutions were being overused and kids were away from their homes for extended periods. Kids with problems go there and meet other kids with problems - they teach each other the tricks of the trade. It can become a school of delinquency despite the best efforts of staff."

The new, community-based approach, also called the Jason K. Model, is the result of a class-action lawsuit settled in 2001.

"It was a lawsuit instigated by some parents who felt that their children weren't getting a sufficient array of behavioral health services," Gray said.

The lawsuit forced Arizona to design an alternative form of treatment for behavioral health problems that better served the needs of children. This was the birth of the Child and Family Team Method.

"We work with the child, the family, the school system, if applicable a probation officer or caseworker from Child Protective Services, as well as people within the family's network of associates such as friends, neighbors. This forms a community-based team that is led and directed to the best extent possible, by the family," Gray said.

One of the Jason K principles is that the unique strengths and needs of the children and their families dictate the type, mix, and intensity of behavioral health services provided.

Parents and children are encouraged and assisted to articulate their own strengths and needs, the goals they are seeking, and what services they think are required to meet these goals.

"We assess the strength and the needs of the family and provide them with what they need. If they need counseling, for instance, this is provided in their own home" Gray said.

"We also have behavior coaches who can be with the child when the parents aren't home, working with the children. We make these resources available to the family," he said.

According to program guidelines, the team that is developed meets regularly to discuss the child, but not without the child or parents present. This allows the family to be an active participant in the course of the treatment, rather than having decisions made solely by mental health care professionals.

Gray says Rim Guidance currently has eight to 10 families involved in the program and hopes to serve more families by the end of February.

Qualification for the service is assessed on a case-by-case basis at which time, eligibility for financial assistance can also be determined.

"In our state, as a result of Proposition 204, most of the families we serve are at an income level where they qualify for our services at no cost," Gray said.

Gray also says that legislative changes enacted Jan. 1 of this year allow parents whose children qualify for Kids Care to be eligible for AHCCCS, Arizona's version of Medicaid.

Concerned with the physical, mental and emotional health of Arizona's children, Gray believes this method of treatment will improve the outcome of services and the state's statistics.

"Studies have shown that this type of community-based treatment is more effective than the traditional service-based programs," he said.

For more information on the Child and Family Team Program and other services offered by Rim Guidance, call 474-3303.

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