A West Virginia University partnership is developing a comprehensive evaluation for West Virginia children’s mental health services to ensure the best outcomes including fewer hospitalizations, shorter lengths of stay, fewer children being removed from the home and lower recidivism rates.
The nine-month WVU project, “Children’s In-Home and Community-Based Services Improvement Project,” will yield an evaluation designed to better understand how well the services are working. Project collaborators will first determine what type of data is needed for the evaluation.
“Data is important for ensuring that essential services are delivered to those in need,” said Dr. Summer D. DeBastiani, the principle investigator for the study. DeBastiani is also adjunct assistant professor in the School of Public Health and director of project management services in the Office of Health Affairs.
DeBastiani said federal funding agencies will have set benchmarks for successful programs, but sometimes those benchmarks don’t translate well to people in the field. They may need different data points to determine program success.”
At the end of the nine-month project, the evaluation plan will be fully developed. The next phase will be data collection and analysis. WVU will continue working with the project as it progresses, DeBastiani said.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is working on eight areas of expansion and improvement for children’s mental health services, including implementing children’s mobile crisis response to more areas throughout the state, creating a 24-hour crisis hotline and expanding the workforce for behavioral support services. The services are at various stages of implementation.
With the expanded services, many families will gain access to services for their child’s mental health needs. The services can also benefit families affected by the opioid epidemic.
“When parents are having substance use problems and disorders, they’re less available to take care of their children, and children experience more trauma and dysfunction in the home,” said Dr. Carole Harris, vice president in public health at ICF, a global consulting and digital services provider and a partner in the WVU project. “It’s greatly increased the need for DHHR services.”
Harris said healthcare is challenging in West Virginia due to a number of factors, including the state’s terrain, low population density and professional provider shortages.
“(Families will) be able to identify the services they can call on when they need help with children,” Harris, who spent 26 years at WVU as a professor in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, and has a background in child clinical psychology, said. “The state is trying really hard to ensure everybody is engaged and contributing to truly improve services and outcomes for children.”
The $1.18 million project is being funded by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
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