The County Voice

Meeting the Challenge: Nevada County’s System of Care Approach

CSAC is producing a series of videos and blog postings highlighting California Counties’ best practices. The programs we are spotlighting are recipients of our annual Challenge Awards, which recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens.  The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2013 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2014 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 27, 2014. 

To View a video about Nevada County’s System of Care approach to mental health services for kids, teens and their families, click here.

One barrier you need to take off the table is “well, we don’t have money to do it.” It doesn’t take any money to sit down at a table and talk with people. That’s a freebie, with a huge payoff.” With those words, Nevada County Health Director Michael Heggarty sums up their approach to providing a system of care for kids, teens, and their families. They have broken down silos, ignored the barriers and are working across several different organizations to provide a network of services that starts with mental health, but has grown into much, much more.

To be honest, it started with a cluster of teen suicides in Nevada County—tragedies that while not statistically out of the norm, hit very close together and very close to home. They made people realize they needed to do more to reach out to kids and their families. And so even as funding for collaboration dried up, they collaborated.  There is a monthly meeting that includes the leaders of the County Health Department, the Superintendent of Schools, the Courts, Probation, Child Welfare and others agencies that have contact with kids and their families. That trickles down to weekly meetings among other staffers.

As money became available from the Mental Health Services Act, they were already positioned to combine resources to get more bang for their buck. For example, the county co-located Family Resource Centers with several local schools. Families can find help with everything from signing their kids up for the local soccer league to mental health screening. Parents and kids see the resource centers as an extension of the school and a comfortable, familiar place to get answers and services.  The centers can also use the school facilities in the evenings and weekends for classes, lectures and other activities.

Through a program called “Sources of Strength” Nevada County reaches out to the teens who need help the most. Using peer-to-peer outreach volunteers, they are changing the culture of the schools in a way that prevents teen suicide, and also helps prevent bullying and substance abuse. Working with the School District, the County offers free mental health screening to every kid entering ninth grade. If that sounds excessive—think about how many tests and vaccinations we give our kids for physical issues—screening for emotional issues is really no different.

It’s hard to measure the results of these programs because it’s hard to prove a negative. How many kids didn’t attempt suicide this year? But what they do know in Nevada County is that the system of care approach, the network of overlapping intake points and services for kids and their families, is breaking down barriers and silos among the service providers, and also between them and the people who need the help. That has to be a good thing and hey—it doesn’t take any money to sit down at the table and talk to people.

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