Lawmakers this session approved bills that put in place new initiatives to stem substance abuse and opioid overdoses, change the way restraints and seclusion are used in Connecticut schools and limit the use of shackles on juveniles in court. Those were just some of the legislature’s health and safety measures reported on by C-HIT during the year. The session, which ended last week, was largely dominated by budget and transportation issues. Under the bills approved:
• Any prescriber supplying more than a 72-hour supply of a controlled substance must first review the patient’s record in a statewide database. In addition, practitioners must review the patient’s record at least every 90 days if prescribing for prolonged treatment.
This much we know: Boys and girls are different. We also know this: Adolescence is the most challenging time of life, and teen girls are particularly challenged to get through those years unscathed. Suicide attempts spike during the teen years, yet even with all that, it’s tough to know what’s “normal,” and what is cause for alarm. And that’s even truer for girls. By the time girls and boys hit their teen years, girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder than are teen boys.
The growing number of children and teens exposed to traumatic events in everyday life has forced the state’s crisis intervention teams to respond to a broader range of behavioral and mental health issues, and those teams often serve as a bridge until at-risk youth find appropriate outpatient or inpatient services. Sixty-four percent of Connecticut’s youth who use Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS), the state’s mobile crisis intervention team, have experienced one or more traumatic incidents, such as domestic violence, cyber-bullying, physical assaults, or gang warfare, experts report. Research shows childhood exposure to violence, physical or sexual abuse, and other traumatic events can cause chronic health and behavioral health problems, and such exposure is associated with increased involvement with the child welfare and criminal justice systems.
“The number of children who have been exposed to trauma is a significant concern. It’s a common occurrence among young people,” said Jeffrey Vanderploeg, vice president for mental health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI). He is director of the EMPS Performance Improvement Center, which is housed at CHDI.
Just a few years ago, it was rare that children with mental health problems would spend two or more nights in the emergency room at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Only 40 children stayed that long in 2010. So far this year, more than 250 children have spent multiple nights in the emergency department (ED) – a number expected to reach 500 by the end of the year. As policy makers work to finalize a statewide children’s behavioral health plan, a report by the hospital, obtained by C-HIT, projects that children with mental health problems will spend a total of 3,085 nights in the ED – more than triple the number in 2010. The average stay is about 15 hours, with some children remaining in the ED for 10 days or more.
Connecticut has made significant gains to create a system that better identifies and treats children suffering from traumatic stress in the year since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But ensuring children have equal access to mental health services regardless of where they live or their insurance status remains elusive. “The impact of trauma on children is a public health issue. It’s happening all over the state and it’s not just high-profile events such as Sandy Hook,” said Robert Franks, vice president of the Child Health and Development Institute, noting that 25,000 children per year experience significant traumatic events. “Children are exposed to all sorts of trauma in their homes and communities every day.
Ten-year-old Joey Smith shared a celebratory high-five with Heather Kunkel, a mental health professional who was visiting the boy’s Thomaston home. “Things are great, spectacular even,” he said, as the two chatted at the kitchen table. It’s a dramatic turnaround for Joey who met Kunkel when she was summoned to Thomaston Center School because he had threatened to harm himself. Now Joey, who has autism, is back at school with a modified curriculum to suit his individual needs and his parents have access to an educational advocate and community resources. The Smiths are among the thousands of Connecticut families turning to the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS) — a crisis intervention program that includes a network of 150 mental health professionals who assist children experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis at home, school or in the community.