More students in mental health crisis in Douglas County schools will soon have access to trained responders after county commissioners funded the expansion of the Community Youth Response Team on May 3.
The Community Youth Response Team, which pairs mental health clinicians with law enforcement to help people in crisis, currently serves 42 county schools. With the additional funding to create a second YCRT team, the program will be able to serve all 92 schools in the district, including private and charter schools.
“We have seen — since the launch of the Community Response Team pilot project — a very great added layer of support for our students,” said Stephanie Crawford-Goetz, director of mental health for the county school district. Douglas. “We’re getting really good at having all eyes on kids, making connections and knowing when they’re showing signs that they’re at risk.”
The YCRT is an extension of the country’s original Community Response Team, which began in 2017 and also pairs law enforcement with clinicians to stabilize mental health crises in the county.
“Having two specialized teams means the YCRT team will no longer have to prioritize which call they want to answer,” said Maggie Cooper, special projects manager for the county.
The commissioners unanimously approved a motion to reallocate approximately $417,000 to the second youth team. This funding will provide a clinician and a case manager for three years. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to provide an existing deputy for the program this year, but may need to hire a new employee for the position beginning in 2023.
“When you tell the story of the real benefit, the real lives that have been impacted, that’s why I think it’s such a good investment,” Commissioner Lora Thomas told the meeting. “Because it’s not just an investment in schools, it’s an investment in the future.”
In 2021, YCRT treated 71 children on site and placed 26 in care facilities. In that entire year, the team responded to 290 referrals, according to a team memo. In the first two months of this year, the team responded to 111 recommendations.
“This upward trend is expected to continue as children and youth return to in-person learning,” according to the memo.
Following the fatal STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting in 2019, the county committed $13 million to school safety initiatives, including $823,000 for mental health services. So far, about $185,000 has been spent on investigations, social-emotional programs and safety training.
During the meeting, Commissioner Abe Laydon asked Crawford-Goetz why the majority of county funding for mental health initiatives has yet to be used. She replied that the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the rollout of some of their plans, but they are still working on other parts of their initiative.
Laydon said he hopes to see programs where struggling students get some kind of intervention before it becomes a crisis.
“I would be okay with that as long as I think it’s understood that you’re doing some significant measure of peer support from other sources,” Laydon said.
Crawford-Goetz said that’s their priority in these situations.
“First and foremost is prevention, early intervention, being proactive, reaching all of our students before it has to come to a point where students are in crisis,” she said. declared. “That’s where we want to focus the majority of our efforts, but we know there will always be a segment of our population that will be in dire need and we want to be accountable for that as well.”
The first Youth Crisis Response Team was established in November 2019, just months after the STEM shootings.
Once students are connected with the youth team, they decide how best to meet their immediate needs. Afterwards, the student continues to be followed and contacted by a case manager.
“It’s been phenomenal following families and making sure that once they have had an initial crisis, they continue to get support and hopefully don’t have a repeat crisis,” said Crawford-Goetz. “What we found with that was that kids could stay in school. They didn’t need to be transported so much.