Janeen Gingrich, the interim Executive Director for NC Families United, and former (amazing) Women AdvaNCe board member worked with author Anna Lynch to put together this article.
The number of minors showing up in emergency rooms with acute mental health issues is increasing. Many are facing long waits for psychiatric beds which were already in short supply before the pandemic began. According to Gene Woods, the CEO of Atrium Health, as of December 4, Atrium had 180 patients in their emergency departments across the state waiting for psychiatric evaluation. Many of those patients are children. While this crisis needs immediate attention, perhaps working toward preventing these acute mental health issues to begin with is where to begin solving the problem.
Parents can be on the lookout for signs of developing mental health issues before they become an emergency. Getting ahead of a mental health issue before it turns into a crisis is crucial. Within North Carolina, there are many different agencies providing a variety of services to support those with mental health issues.
But, navigating the myriad agencies can be overwhelming for most people. Fortunately, North Carolina Families United (NCFU), a statewide non-profit agency, provides significant support to families of children and youth dealing with mental health issues. NCFU is part of the North Carolina Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families. The agency uses a System of Care model meaning that individuals or family members who have previously used services become service providers themselves called Family Partners. They receive training and certification to become advocates who can directly help families. Because the advocates have the lived experience of having a mental health need themselves or caring for a family member who does, they have a unique understanding of what a family may need.
Services that NCFU Family Partners may provide include:
- connecting families with mental health support,
- advocating for those in the juvenile justice system,
- finding housing,
- attending IEP or Child and Family Team meetings for children with special needs,
- attending court proceedings
- connecting families with in home physical, speech or occupational therapy
Chandrika Brown, a Family Partner Coordinator with NC Families United in Alamance County and co-chair of the Statewide Collaborative, has connections within all of the agencies in her area that might help a family. Additionally, she partners with grocery stores, Elon University, the United Way, the Salvation Army, local churches and even a gas station to find support for families. She has networked all over the county and found those who are willing to help those with children with mental health needs.
NCFU identifies people needing their services in innovative ways. Some Family Partners are housed within a pediatrician’s office. Others are part of crisis teams located near hospitals so that if a child is in the emergency room for psychiatric reasons, the team can be there right away. But these are the exceptions. In many rural parts of the state there are no Family Partners or crisis teams. In these counties, children who end up in the emergency room can stay for months before a bed opens up in one of the psychiatric hospitals. And the whole time they are there, they might receive no psychiatric intervention.
There are presently only six Family Partners employed by NCFU for the entire state. There is a great need for more Family Partners, but a lack of funding prevents expansion of services. If this is an issue that you care about, make sure to advocate for an increase in funding with your state legislators.
If you are a parent who has navigated services for their child or youth and are interested in becoming a Family Partner, please visit NCFU’s website at www.ncfamiliesunited.org or call 336.395.8828 for more information.
Resources for Parents
If you are concerned that your child is developing mental health issues, please take a look at the resources listed here. Being proactive about getting help can make the difference. While in-person therapy is presently not available, telehealth therapy is.
- The Mayo Clinic offers a guide for parents to consider whether their child’s symptoms warrant medical attention.
- HelpGuide also lists symptoms of depression and substance abuse.
- The Sandhills Center is offering many free online workshops to anyone interested including how to smooth the transition back to school from online learning to parent support groups to understanding seasonal affective disorder among many other topics.
- For statewide resources put together by NCFU, Download the Directory here.
- If you need to find a therapist for a child, you can go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website and find information for referrals.
- You can call NCFU directly during business hours at 336-395-8828 for non-crisis help.
- If you need a referral for services, you can call 211.