Piñon Project improving care for disturbed youths

The Piñon Project is launching a program to create individualized care for at-risk children with a serious emotional disturbance, who are already receiving services from a government agency.

The voluntary program will bring together key people in the child’s life including parents, social workers, therapists and other important figures, to identify a shared vision and case plan for the child’s life, said Kelli Unrein the youth program director for the Piñon Project.

Piñon Project advocates will organize regular meetings for those involved and identify options and services available for families including health care options and workforce services.

“Through that wraparound, services become extremely individualized,” Unrein said.

The program is for children and teens that may be bipolar or live with anxiety disorders, depression and other disorders. Often, these children and teens are sent outside the community for treatment, but once they return, the family may not be prepared to help transition the child back into the home, said Carmen Samora, the wraparound facilitator. This can lead to recidivism.

So one of the main goals of the program is to reduce the number of children placed in foster homes or taken out of the community for residential treatment by looking at the family as a whole, Unrein said.

“My hope is to have agencies and services integrate to provide a family-focused plan,” said Samora.

For example, the parents of these children may be faced with conflicting requirements from different agencies. CPS and probation conditions might require overlapping classes, Samora said. Meeting with all the agencies to create one plan is meant to reduce frustration and increase success.

In the first year, the Piñon Project hopes to serve 15 families. The families would receive services for as a long as necessary, but the goal would be to transition them out after 12 months.

The Piñon Project just finished a six-month planning process for the new program. Samora and a family advocate, who had first hand experience as a client with some of the agencies, have been hired work with the families. But the two must complete their training before the program will start accepting families.

The Communities of Excellence Grant provided $30,000 for the first year and $40,000 for the second year of the program. This year the Piñon Project also received $20,000 of matching funds from the state. The Communities of Excellence funding runs in three-year cycles and during that time, the Piñon Project must develop a way for it to become a sustainable program through other sources.

As part of the grant the Piñon Project will also work to do trauma education with different agencies to help government agencies and nonprofits understand trauma may surface as behavioral problems like classroom outbursts.

“Many times people will ask ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Through this grant we hope to inform and educate around trauma and get agency professionals to adopt trauma informed policies and begin asking the question ‘What happened to you?’ said Unrein.

The Piñon Project will do this through organizational assessments, trainings and an annual trauma summit.