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The REACH Institute: Best Practice Guidelines Address Mental Health Needs of Youth in Care

Child Welfare League of America Publishes Consensus Guidelines

NEW YORK, March 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A national coalition of more than 80 leading child welfare stakeholders have announced the most comprehensive guidelines ever to ensure quality care and accountability for mental health services provided to children and youth in the child welfare system.

The landmark "Mental Health Practice Guidelines for Child Welfare" publication provides clear direction on identifying, assessing and treating youth in foster care with serious behavioral and mental health problems. The guidelines address five key areas related to the mental health of these youth: screening and assessment, psychosocial interventions, psychopharmacologic interventions, parent support and youth empowerment.

"By addressing such key issues as family and youth empowerment, and proper use of psychotropic medications, the guidelines are a major addition to what was previously available to caregivers and policymakers," according to Dr. Peter Jensen, President of The Reach Institute, which coordinated the guideline development process with funding from Casey Family Programs (CFP) and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF).

Overall, the guidelines stress the importance of making sure children and families in foster care receive the highest quality treatment. This is meant to draw attention to the often overlooked fact that this population is at high risk of costly, long-term mental health problems.

According to Dr. Peter J. Pecora, senior director of research at CFP, "Multiple studies show youth in the child welfare system use mental health services at very high rates across all age groups. The new guidelines aim to help child welfare agencies more effectively address the mental health needs of this vulnerable population."

The guidelines were unveiled during the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) national advocacy conference in Washington, D.C. and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, the National Foster Care Coalition, the Carter Center Mental Health Program and other national organizations.

The guidelines emphasize the need to carefully monitor psychotropic medication use patterns in the foster care system. Studies show that rates of medication use for children in child welfare range from 13 to 37 percent, compared to 4 percent for youth in the general population.

Also stressed are guidelines for engaging parents and youth more fully in child welfare and mental health services. Included are recommendations for (a) developing Peer Family Mentors to advocate with and assist families in seeking care, and (b) embedding youth empowerment into the mission of child welfare agencies to ensure that youth in care have opportunities to enhance their functioning in multiple areas.

"This is important guidance for the field of child welfare to better meet the needs of the children and youth it serves. We are happy to be part of this initiative and are excited that it was published in a special issue of CWLA's signature journal Child Welfare," said Christine James-Brown, president and CEO of CWLA.

With support from Casey Family Programs and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Reach Institute, in October 2007 convened 80 experts in the fields of child welfare and mental health policy, including parents and youth advocates, to examine ways to improve the identification, assessment and treatment of children with these need. This ground-breaking effort became known as the Best Practices for Mental Health in Child Welfare Consensus Conference from which the guidelines were crafted, refined and finalized.

The new guidelines should give clinicians and agency directors detailed navigation tools to address the mental health and social and emotional needs of these at-risk children.

"We are confident that the resulting guidelines are in-depth, relevant and practical, providing direction in the most needed child welfare topics," Dr. Jensen said. "They specifically address the most critical issues in the field, including the all too common problems of over- and under-treatment." "Children in the child welfare system have experienced such trauma that it is incumbent upon all of us to use the best tools and Evidence Based Practices available for their care," said Robert L. Hartman, MSW, executive vice president and chief operating officer of DePelchin Children's Center, the largest and most comprehensive provider of children's social and mental health services in the Houston area. The guidelines have been published in a special edition of the journal Child Welfare (Vol. 88, No. 1) and are available by calling 800-407-6273 and online at

Since 1920, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has been the nation's pre-eminent organization dedicated to ensuring that disadvantaged and vulnerable children are protected from harm and have the tools and resources they need to grow into the healthy and happy adults we want them to become. CWLA is the trusted authority for professionals who work with children and the only national organization with members from both public and private agencies, providing unique access and influence to all sectors of the children's services field.

SOURCE The REACH Institute
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