New mental health mobile unit aims to help schoolchildren suffering during pandemic

As the mental health concerns of children and teens continue to mount around the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of a new Mobile Crisis Team comes at a crucial time. 

Approximately 10,000 children enrolled in Hillsborough County schools are quarantined this week due to exposure to COVID. Whether Floridians agree whether to mandate masks in public schools or not, one element of this pandemic is unmistakable: for the young, mental health crises continue to manifest.

Mental health trauma is a side effect of the COVID era, and anxiety, depression, OCD and suicide attempts are all on the rise for children and adolescents. Gracepoint’s Mobile Crisis Team aims to take services directly to those who increasingly need them, and that means straight to the schools.  

“Our Children’s Mobile Crisis Team will help coordinate the appropriate treatment while avoiding unnecessary emergency care,” says Gracepoint CEO Joe Rutherford.

The Mobile Crisis Team comes to the rescue when a child enrolled in a Hillsborough County public school is believed to be in crisis. This crisis team involves therapists and case managers as well as a clinical lead and supervisor. The old model of searching for the correct care can seem overwhelming for parents and caregivers, says Rutherford; the mobile team eliminates that step.

“Families do not always know what resources are available or how to access them, especially in very urgent situations,” Rutherford says. 

Now, a resource team on wheels will come to the challenge, instead of the challenge coming to them. One goal of the mobile response is to ‘Baker Act’ fewer children. Not every child needs the emergency action that the Act mandates; that determination can be made swiftly thanks to the combined expertise of the mental health professionals on the Team.

Here’s how it works: When a child is identified as needing assistance, school personnel make a referral to the School Board’s mental health representatives. For the Children’s Mobile Response Team to come into the picture, parental consent must be obtained. Two scenarios can then occur:
  1. For the child who doesn’t meet Baker Act criteria, the Team refers to outpatient therapy or a community program that can meet specific needs.
  2. If the child is deemed to be in crisis, the Baker Act is initiated; should the child require further immediate assistance, transportation to the appropriate facility is arranged.

“We hope to get the right treatment when and how children need it,” Rutherford says. “Our Mobile Response Team serves as a ‘no wrong door’ model to treatment because they go to where a crisis is taking place -- in schools.”

Gracepoint touts itself as a leader in Tampa Bay in providing behavioral health solutions. The nonprofit specializes in inpatient, outpatient, residential and community-based treatment services and prevention and averages 8,000 calls for help each month. During the last year, the organization saw behavioral health needs of adults and children dramatically increase.

For more information, visit Gracepoint Wellness or call 813-272-2244.
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Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.