St. Louis County Looking Nationally to Help Kids With Mental Illnesses

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Interesting lead story in today's Post-Dispatch, where Nancy Cambria reports that St. Louis County teenagers beset with mental illnesses are typically turned away by emergency rooms after their first visits and that, in the last 18 months, St. Louis County saw unprecedented demand for domestic violence shelters, shelters for teenage mothers and transtional living apartments for homeless teens.

"Right now we just don't have anything to do with kids who definitely need services, but they don't need to be hospitalized," Kate Tansey, the executive director of the St. Louis County Children's Service Fund, told the P-D.

But that could soon change, according to the article, which details a pledge by the children's fund to allocate $2 million next year for an outpatient mental-health crisis program in the County that would provide safe haven for children grappling with mental illness, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and family violence.

The money was first available in 2009, and numerous grants were awarded to address mental health needs among kids, but nothing really took off, according to the P-D. Now, writes Cambria, the Children's Service Fund is looking outside of the region for a suitable program, to places like the Memphis-based Youth Villages.

St. Louis County has the largest number of residents seventeen and younger in the state -- about 233,000 -- and Tansey told the P-D that nearly 40 percent of them have been served by 44 distinct social services agencies. The Children's Service Fund has already pledged more money next year for the countywide Youth Connection Helpline that dispatches professionals directly to kids in trouble; Tansey said the hotline handled about 1,000 calls from July through October, linking many teens with emergencey shelter and professional help and crystallizing the need for the proposed outpatient mental-health crisis program.

According to the P-D's report, the Children's Service Fund is subsidized by a quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2008 that is expected to award nearly $33 million in grants next year to 50 nonprofit agencies serving St. Louis children and teenagers, in addition to the $2 million that's expected to be awarded for the proposed mental health program.

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