- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - “Johnny’s out of control. What am I going to do with him?”

The cry for help from a frustrated parent of a troubled child is typical of those heard by staff at Central Kansas Mental Health Center, the Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/28lNAWe ) reported.

Previously, unsettled children from Dickinson, Ellsworth, Lincoln, Ottawa and Saline counties were being sent to mental hospitals in Hays and Topeka, said Cody Sparks, director of CKMHC’s crisis services.

But with the opening this month of Martin Youth Center in Salina, there soon will be an alternative for children between the ages of 10 and 17 in need of intervention and counseling. The facility will house four children - up to six in an emergency - for up to 72 hours.

“It’s all too common for parents to become defeated with their children,” Sparks said. “If they are not a danger to themselves or others, we would consider what we call diverting them. This will be an option to come here (to the Martin Center) and let everyone cool down.”

Sparks said there has been a recognized need for such a center for a long time.

“There were those kids in the gray areas where we went, ‘I wish we had something different to use.’ If we had a place where we could put them for a few hours or overnight we could de-escalate the crisis and resolve the issue rather than putting them in a hospital.”

The mental health center has had an inpatient unit for adults for many years, said Dan Gard, director of outpatient services.

“We didn’t have one for children,” he said. “About the only thing you could do to keep a child safe was to send them off to Topeka or Hays (to a hospital). That was better than nothing.

“Not having an inpatient unit, we are not able to do very much with the family and child together to solve the problem. They get a break but when they come back, nothing has really changed. Here we can be working on the problem from the minute they get here, with the family, with the child or separately. The child is not off somewhere, coming back to the same problem when they left,” Gard said.

“We hope we will be able to impact that family situation enormously by keeping them here.”

Gard said community partners, including law enforcement and emergency room personnel, could refer families to members of a 24-hour crisis team.

“They would make the referral to this (Martin Center) as one of their options,” Gard said. “They would go and triage the situation.”

He said a goal is to determine the problem between the parents and the child and intervene.

Pat Kinnaird, director of community relations, said the mental health center embraces recovery.

“There are things that we can do to help them rather than just stay in that cycle of being returned home with no intervention,” Kinnaird said. “The intervention is what is going to make a difference.”

She said families often don’t have the money to travel to Hays or Topeka to visit the child and participate in family-oriented treatment.

“A lot of people don’t understand that just having the gas to drive to Topeka is prohibitive,” she said. “It really hinders the family in healing and changing what was going on to a healthier way.”

Deanna Ryals, coordinator of Martin Youth Center and Attendant Care Program, said each child will have individual supervision 24 hours a day while staying at the center.

And each will receive counseling.

“Maybe they are in here and are really depressed. We will pull out activities to help them learn to manage their symptoms and their behavior. Maybe some deep breathing, maybe some exercises, some journaling and those type of activities,” she said.

She said the children also will have chores, as if they were at home.

“They will be helping prepare the meals, taking out the trash, doing those type of activities,” she said.

The practice of keeping adults in the community rather than institutionalizing them in state hospitals started with mental health reform in the 1990s, Sparks said.

The movement now is shifting to juveniles. The Juvenile Justice Authority wants to keep them out of detention, he said.

“And the goal is to keep them out of hospitals if it is a safe, viable option,” he said.

The mental health center received a grant from the Tower Foundation, of Topeka, to help pay for a portion the Martin Center and its operations.

“The grant helped purchase some of the things we have. For example the appliances, the bedding, washer and dryer and staff time as well for planning and assistance,” Kinnaird said.

The Martin Youth Center is named after Oliver Martin, a longtime general physician in Salina and a 30-year board member of Central Kansas Mental Health Center.

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

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