Trauma Informed Care

An increase in severity: Commentary on an article from The Denver Post

By Jim Uhernik, Director of Business Development

An article published today in The Denver Post highlighted a significant gap in Colorado’s mental health system. Mount Saint Vincent is a provider of mental health services, caring for some of the most vulnerable children in Colorado. While the article focuses on adults, we at Mount Saint Vincent have seen similar issues like the ones discussed, but with children.

Five years ago, Fort Logan closed its children’s units. When that happened, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) asked nonprofit mental health providers, including Mount Saint Vincent, to create solutions to address the decreased availability of psychiatric hospital beds. Our response, like many others, was to expand the programs and services we offered and incorporate evidence-based practices and trauma-informed care models. Trauma is a nearly universal experience for individuals with behavioral health problems. It impacts every area of human functioning—physical, mental, behavioral, and social. Trauma-informed care recognizes this, and looks to create an environment that is healing and soothing, where staff convey dignity, respect, hopefulness, and empowerment among the children.

While expanded services have had a positive impact in terms of providing more preventative care, the reduction in psychiatric beds, as well as the criteria for children placed in psychiatric hospitalization, still needs to be addressed. Since that time five years ago, Mount Saint Vincent has encountered an increase in the severity of mental health issues in the children we serve. As a public charity, we had the flexibility to increase our staff to handle the new challenge. However, because of these changes, we are continually looking for new ways to cover the rising costs of providing more specialized care to a smaller number of children.

So, despite the nonprofit and private sector’s efforts to fill the gap, it’s not enough. Psychiatric hospitalization is still needed and is a critical component of Colorado’s continuum of care. Without it, Colorado cannot address children’s mental health in an appropriate manner that provides good outcomes for children, families, and the community.

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Providing a Continuum of Trauma Informed Care

At Mount Saint Vincent, we believe in providing a continuum of trauma informed care. By offering an array of services under one roof, we can respond to a child’s needs more quickly and effectively.

What is part of the continuum?

Mount Saint Vincent delivers a range of programs and services. We provide home-like residential treatment in our three cottages for 36 girls and boys ages 5 to 12. This treatment option is for children so severely impacted by trauma, mental illness, neglect, or abuse that 24/7 care is required.

In our day treatment program, children receive individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy in accordance with their therapeutic needs. They also get creative arts therapy (art, movement, and music) as well as recreation and when appropriate, specialty therapies (EMDR and animal-assisted). The day treatment program provides psychiatric services and consultation for each child in the program as well. Children in day treatment are likewise enrolled in our Sister Daniel Stefani on-grounds school where they are taught by trained special education teachers.

Mount Saint Vincent also provides in-home therapy. Behavior therapists and behavior coaches offer both individual and family therapy in the home. The therapist works to transition the child’s success at Mount Saint Vincent to the home environment, strengthen communication and positive connection among family members, and provide developmentally appropriate parenting interventions.

Why is a continuum of care important?

Andrew had been in residential care at Mount Saint Vincent for two years. Having been through so much and in residential care so long, he craved to be in a caring and accepting forever home. Our staff knew him well, so when the day came for him to go to his new adoptive family, they were thrilled. After Andrew was adopted, he remained in Mount Saint Vincent’s day treatment program which assisted in the transition from residential care to his home placement. He took comfort in knowing that not everything in his world was changing at once. The MSV in-home treatment team also worked with Andrew and his adoptive family twice a week. The team shared our interventions with his new family – something Andrew was familiar with and had also helped him be safe and successful enough to transition into a home. Plus, their presence allowed him to feel comfortable about being in a new place. Eventually, Andrew discharged from both day treatment and in-home services and is now thriving in his adoptive home and in public school.

So, why is a continuum of care important? When a child is able to make slow and gradual transitions in their level of care, it is proven to be easier on the child, ultimately ensuring the successful reintegration of the child back into a family setting, thereby fulfilling our mission of strengthening families and children, making life better for generations to come.

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