MINGO JUNCTION -Children with behavioral problems were once just labeled by school officials, but a day treatment program is working to identify symptoms that can keep a child out of the classroom because of his or her disruptive conduct.
The Jefferson Behavioral Health System has been operating a day treatment program for children with severe behavioral and emotional issues for the past several years. The program found a permanent home in June when the former St. Agnes Catholic School was purchased and renovated.
JBHS received a $300,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Development to purchase and renovate the school. The purchase price was $160,000.
IN CLASS — Cathy Plittman, Jefferson Behavioral Health System youth services division coordinator, and Josh Hawrot, JBHS youth day treatment team leader, sit in one of the classrooms at the youth day treatment. -- Mark Law
The former school is now the hub for all mental health treatment for youth, including meetings with a psychologist, counselors and case managers.
Cathy Plittman, JBHS youth services division coordinator, said there are a variety of services offered in the county, including individual group therapy, youth case management, group therapy for girls and a girls circle group operated in conjunction with juvenile court. There are two therapists who provide therapy service at Wintersville Elementary, Hills Elementary, Buckeye Local schools and Karaffa Middle School in Toronto.
Plittman said youth services do risk assessment at juvenile court and at the court's detention center. Three case managers conduct group therapy two time a week. They also conduct individual therapy.
- May is Mental Health Awareness Month in Jefferson County.
Josh Hawrot, JBHS youth day treatment team leader, said the day treatment program provides intensive therapy for children with severe diagnosis that, because of their behavior problems, are not able to function at their home school.
"They come here to deal with problems in a more focused way and then go back to school and are able to function better," Hawrot said.
The diagnoses can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar, anxiety, anger and depression,
The day treatment program can serve up to 30 children. Sessions are held five days a week during normal school hours. Home school districts in Jefferson and Harrison counties provide busing, Hawrot said.
In the morning, the children break down into groups based on age and how they are progressing in dealing with their behavior issues. The students also work on class assignments given by their home teacher.
Treatment lasts for 60 days, sometimes more, and is paid for by insurance.
Hawrot said the afternoon session includes a review of the day and helps to determine if goals are being met.
Hawrot said if the children hit a wall in dealing with their behavior problems, staff members emphasize consequences for their actions, such as school suspension, expulsion or even being placed in the juvenile court system.
Hawrot said the children have a mix of problems. He said there are anxiety and depression mixed in with the ADHD, "There is a lot of anger with the current population."
Social skills are emphasized in the program. Fun activities are planned during the day so participants can practice social skills, teamwork and self-improvement.
Hawrot said the majority of the children step down and integrate back to schools. About 10 percent to 15 percent need more intensive work. He said some even need to be hospitalized and come back or go to juvenile court's alternative school.
The girls and boys slowly reintegrate back into their home school. They go several days to their home school and several days to day treatment program so they can adjust to the school environment, Hawrot said.
Pamela Petrilla, Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board executive director, said counselors are seeing more younger kids come into the system. She said it is not unusual to have children as young as 3 or 4 getting help.
Dan Obertance, Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board associate director, said the schools can't handle the children.
"The day treatment center provides a nice opportunity for everyone. It provides them a chance to get treatment they might need for a conduct disorder so they can go back to their home school," Obertance said.
"We are very proud to have a dedicated center to treat youth," Petrilla said. "We have excellent clinicians and a child psychologist where the youth can get comprehensive treatment."
Plittman said she has seen an increase in case referrals during the past several months.
Plittman started with JBHS in 1996 with the CARE Network residential facility and has been in her current position since 2004.
She said JBHS wasn't partnering with juvenile court, schools and children services years ago. That changed when it became apparent some children needed intensive treatment because of their behavior problems, she said.
JBHS youth services also provide counseling in the children's home.
"We get a really good look at social and emotional problems and get an assessment of clinical issues," she said.
She said the stigma has come down for mental health issues. "People now see it on parity with physical health issues," Plittman said.
She said there has been added stress placed on families because of the economic decline and loss of jobs,
"A lot of stress has been placed on families and children show it at school. With an increase in homelessness, we see children affected, not just adults."
"We have had children living out of cars. There is no stable home environment."
Plittman said there isn't as much family support as there has been in the past, and not as much extended family support.
"A sizable number of children are on medication. We see a lot of anger in children that is actually depression. They show it differently than adults. Bullying has taken a toll on children, Cyberbullying can be used as a weapon," Plittman said.
Hawrot said parents are cooperating with the day treatment program, especially when they see symptoms start to subside.
Plittman said many parents see the problem and do whatever can be done to get to a solution. She added that parents are open to developing skills to help parent better, she said.
Plittman said drugs and alcohol use among children continues to be a problem in the community.
In the future, Plittman wants to see an in-county treatment center for adolescents.
She also wants to see a bookmobile-type vehicle that can travel to rural areas so families don't have to travel. She said getting a child into the Mingo Junction facility for treatment session can be a problem for parents in outlying areas. She said the vehicle would be staffed by a therapist and caseworker to increase ability to access services
"We need to get mobile services to go into homes and schools to best serve people where they are," Plittman said.
Hawrot said the day treatment center is in need of a variety of items, including more computers and an upgraded playground and gym.
Plittman wants to continue to enhance partnerships with juvenile court, schools, predications and children services so children who need help can access services. Plittman said she goes into the community to give presentations to school professionals about the referral process.