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Oregon advocates, innovations in children's mental health honored

Lisa Butler says the Statewide Children's Wraparound Initiative helped her son succeed in school and gave her family critical support.

May 6, 2011 - Children and families facing mental illness can feel isolated, as if they are the only ones facing a crisis. But a gathering of families, lawmakers and policymakers in Salem for Children's Mental Health Awareness Day this week showed that help is available โ€” and that with early interventions and effective treatment, children and young people can recover.

At the event on the capitol steps, Salem mother Lisa Butler shared her experience with the Statewide Children's Wraparound Initiative, which works with children with mental illness who have been involved in the child welfare system. Butler said the program helped her find appropriate care for her young son when he began exhibiting dangerous behaviors. Just as critical, she said, were the peer-delivered services from families who had been down a similar road.

"The most important thing the Wrap program did for me was the peer support I received โ€” empowering us to parent this child," Butler told the gathered crowd. "It gave us a voice, resources, and a place to be with people to collaborate with, to find solutions, to be a strong, successful, functioning family." She said that today her son, now in the sixth grade, plays organized sports, has friends and is active in the community โ€” things the family had not been sure he would be able to do.

Elizabeth Godfrey shared her experiences and commitment to advocating for better mental health care for Oregon teens and young adults.

Butler's experience is typical for families involved in the Wraparound program. Children who have the help of this program are more likely to stay with their families and perform better in school.

Another program highlighted at the gathering was Oregon's pioneering Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA), which works with youths at the earliest signs of psychosis. The EASA program has seen hospitalizations drop by 79 percent among program participants, and youth employment increasing by about the same amount.

"Efforts like these protect our children and keep them healthy and strong," said Dr. Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority. "These are the tools families need to help children stay in school, build friendships and pursue their dreams."

Dr. Goldberg said that families know what works: programs that provide early intervention, assessment and treatment.

"Right care, right time, right place," he said.

Bill Bouska, OHA Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Coordinator, read Governor Kitzhaber's proclamation of Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on the capitol steps.

Also at the event, the Council of Young Adults in Transition and Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon, a youth-led advocacy group, honored three mental health professionals for their work in helping young people. Bob Lieberman, who is the executive director of the Southern Oregon Adolescent Study and Treatment Center of Grants Pass, was presented with the "Heart of Change" award in recognition of more than 20 years of service and advocacy.

Kirk Wolfe, M.D., a Portland child psychiatrist, was also honored with the "Heart of Healing" award for his commitment and the expertise he brings to his role as a policymaker. Damien Sands, who oversees young adult programs for the Oregon Health Authority, was presented with the "Heart of the Ally" award in recognition of his efforts to bring communities and local agencies together to address the special needs of young people who are between the juvenile and adult mental health systems.

Each award was presented by a young person or family member who has had first-hand experience with the children's mental health system, and who serves on a children's mental health advisory committee with an honoree. For Youth M.O.V.E. director Martin Rafferty, the fact that young people had chosen to honor the professionals with whom they serve on those committees speaks to a "new era where young people are able to relate to mental health professionals and policymakers as peers."

"You always hear young people complain about 'the system,' " Rafferty said. "It's clear that these young people are looking at the adults and saying 'they've helped change my life for the better.' "

Also attending the event were State Reps. Carolyn Tomei (D-Portland), Andy Olson (R-Albany) and Wally Hicks (R-Grants Pass) who praised the youth and families for their diligence and resilience.

For more stories about why better health care matters for Oregonians, visit the Oregon Health Authority story page.