Sandy Hook anniversary highlights growing child mental health care crisis
We are approaching the very sad one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The victims’ families and the people of Newtown have asked us all to pay tribute to their loved ones by respecting the town’s privacy on this day and by performing “random acts of kindness” as part of our everyday activities. An extra smile, a kind acknowledgement, letting someone into traffic, encouraging a child — all are wonderful ways to honor the lives of the 20 children and six courageous educators who lost their lives during this senseless act.
As we grieve for this unspeakable loss, the staff of the Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County encourages you to remember that these life-shattering events, including Sandy Hook, Aurora, or Columbine, do not happen in a vacuum. Warning signs are frequently present. Unfortunately, a child’s warning signs are often missed or not fully understood. Mental health treatment for such children is mostly unavailable or is financially inaccessible.
Every piece of research known to the psychiatric community consistently shows that early detection and intervention improves the outlook for anyone with a psychiatric disorder — and drastically reduces the likelihood of violence. Here in Norwalk, the Child Guidance Center provides early detection and intervention of children suffering from mental health issues. Currently, we are the only organization in Norwalk that has the interdisciplinary capacity to take on the most critical and complex cases for treatment and care. However, the needs of our community are now outpacing our resources.
A growing number of children and families are referred to us on a daily basis, but our caseload already far exceeds our capacity. Although we quickly evaluate each child to determine the severity of the issue, we are forced to put most on our wait list because we simply do not have the funds to immediately help every child in need. Our wait list now extends three months. During this time a frustrated family relationship can become irreparably damaged, or a struggling child can become hopelessly depressed. In other words, a lot can happen in three months — often with tragic and sometimes violent consequences.
The Child Guidance Center, a nonprofit organization, serves the children and families of the Greater Norwalk area, including Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, Weston and Westport. We provide services regardless of a family’s ability to pay. These services include outpatient clinical services for children and teens in distress, extended-day treatment for acute care cases and afterschool support that often identifies the need for further intervention. Highly trained clinical staff and certified educators, using the most current evidence-based practices, provide all our services.
This type of behavioral and mental health intervention comes at a substantial financial cost. Support from state and local governments, local foundations and a few generous benefactors helps, but at this point our community’s need far outweighs our financial ability to provide services.
Even if you don’t directly use our services, the Child Guidance Center helps the Greater Norwalk community in ways that are simply incalculable. Behavioral and mental health issues impact everyone: employers, parents, students, friends and neighbors. While the economic cost of untreated childhood mental illness is high, the human cost is staggering – just ask anyone from Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine or the many other communities that have experienced such tragedies.
So how can you help? Become informed, become aware and support the child mental health care providers in your community. And, in honor of the victims of Sandy Hook, perform random acts of kindness. It’s that simple. For more information about how we serve your community, please visit our website at www.childguidancemfct.org
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