Task Force Strives to Help Students in Crisis

February 27, 2019

Thanks to the work of a task force spearheaded by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES in collaboration with community partners, students in crisis may be more likely to get the help they need.
The Regional Crisis Stabilization Task Force was created in 2018 to continue work that began at an all-day conference organized by Westchester County in 2017 to assist students who need support during or after a mental health crisis.
“We were compelled to take the next step to assist schools in the region to identify and coordinate available resources for students and families experiencing a crisis,” said PNW BOCES Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lynn Allen who co-facilitated the Regional Crisis Stabilization Task Force.
According to national statistics, one in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health issue. And schools are in a unique position to support students’ overall social and emotional health and wellbeing.  
The task force, which included educators, mental health specialists, and county mental health officials from Putnam and Westchester counties met five times to accomplish its goal. Two students from the Lakeland School District also participated and “gave a unique and compelling perspective,” said Dr. Allen.
The task force’s primary goal was to “stop kids ping-ponging between schools and the most restrictive mental health services,” said Dr. Andrew Bell, Westchester County Program Director of Children’s Mental Health. Too often, he noted, students are referred to hospitals or psychiatric facilities when a less restrictive, more coordinated approach may produce better long-term results.
Currently, schools may call a county liaison to help build a “wrap-around” team of service providers to support the child. But overwhelming demand can make for slow response to a situation that needs immediate attention. This is how many students become hospitalized unnecessarily.
“This can be very traumatizing to the student and can make things worse,” said PNW BOCES Coordinator of Guidance and Child Study Dr. Andrew Ecker.
Dawn Mullins, who serves as Putnam County’s Single Point of Access Coordinator, provided valuable insight. Putnam has created a Rapid Response Wrap-Around system, which immediately assesses each situation, allowing for true emergencies to be dealt with promptly. The task force discussed ways to adopt a similar protocol in Westchester, although it acknowledged that Westchester’s much larger population presents unique challenges.
Westchester County Commissioner of Community Mental Health Michael Orth thanked BOCES for assembling the task force. “I’m struck by the amount of work being done in the schools for children with mental illness and it was very valuable to hear perspective from others,” he said.
Dr. Bell agreed: “This has broadened my knowledge and shows what can happen when people with diverse expertise come together for a common goal.”
Dr. Allen noted that the work of the task force was closely tied to the BOCES’ mission of service and innovation through partnership.  “I’m thrilled that BOCES was able to gather this group of mental health professionals together to accomplish things that will directly benefit students in our region,” she said.