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Successful collaborations with local law enforcement

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board seeks to create effective education, prevention, treatment and recovery programs. To do this, our agency works supportively with a variety of community partners. Three of our current efforts involve law enforcement agencies. I am hopeful that by reinforcing the positive aspects of these programs, we can continue to focus on what needs to be changed in our society with new-found motivation. While recognizing that we have the tools, talents and resources necessary to do so.

The Handle with Care program, started in 2014 in Charleston, partners school districts with law enforcement agencies to support children who have been touched by crime, either as victims or as bystanders. The program has since spread to school districts in 20 other states Washington County schools and law enforcement agencies are currently working together to create processes to ensure that schools are better trauma-informed. The program starts when police responding to a call encounter child who has witnessed a crime or traumatic event. Officers take the child’s name, age and school information in order to notify the appropriate school district. The communication includes the name of the child and the caution that the child has been exposed to a traumatic incident and may exhibit academic, emotional or behavioral problems. No other information about the traumatic event is shared. The goal is not to re-inflict trauma by “punishing negative behaviors,” but instead to pay close attention to the child and make sure that he/she receives compassionate treatment and access to mental health services if necessary.

The Recovery Engagement Team (RET) began over a year and a half ago and is led by Hopewell Health Centers in Belpre. This multi-disciplinary approach to following up with individuals at high risk for overdose involves other agencies including the Washington County Health Department, Life & Purpose Behavioral Health, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Referrals come from community agencies, community members, law enforcement agencies and Marietta Memorial Hospital, just to name a few. Thereafter, the referrals are de-conflicted by Deputy Kevin Carr from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Once the referrals are cleared, the members of the Recovery Engagement Team meet to discuss strategy before going out to visit the person and/or family members. Showing that the community as a whole cares about the individual is a powerful way to break society’s stigma around people with substance use disorder, often referred to as the disease of isolation. Having a law enforcement representative on the team not only ensures a safe environment for the team members but also shows the client and his/her family that incarceration is NOT the end goal of RET. Instead, getting someone HELP with recovery from this disease IS what RET strives for. In 2019 the team had 66 referrals, and so far in 2020 they have had 32 referrals.

The Crisis Intervention Training Program (CIT) began in Washington County five years ago and features a week-long series of workshops for law enforcement agencies. Topics include: mental health disorders, signs of suicide, clinical terminology, community resource panel, and discussions with hospital crisis workers, as well as consumers and family members. The model was first developed in Memphis and has spread across the country. It provides the foundation necessary to promote community solutions to assist individuals with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder while reducing both the stigma and the need for further involvement with the criminal justice system. CIT provides a forum for effective problem-solving in regard to interactions between the criminal justice and behavioral health care systems, and it creates a culture of respect and transformation. According to CIT International, research shows that communities that use the CIT model have higher success rates in resolving serious crisis situations. To date nearly 100 law enforcement representatives have participated in this program, and the next training is scheduled for November 2020.

On my drive back to work from lunch on Monday, June 15, I was impressed to see a group of community members demonstrating in Marietta at the corner of the Putnam Street Bridge. Protest is a very important forum to address grievances and advocate for change. The Washington County Behavioral Health Board takes our commitment to serving this community seriously and believes that another vital way to address problems and transform society is through POSITIVE PROGRAMS that model the values we wish to see in our community.

For more information on any of these programs, please contact The Washington County Behavioral Health Board, info@wcbhb.org or call 740-374-6990.

Hilles Hughes is the deputy director for the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.

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