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OPINION: Crosby: New program in Aurora putting more focus on crisis intervention
The Beacon-News - 6/29/2020
Jun. 29--When a call comes in through the local 911 center that a mental health crisis is unfolding -- examples include potential suicide, destructive behavior, paranoia or psychosis -- a team of social workers is standing by to respond.
The goal of this team is to quickly de-escalate the situation, assess the individual in crisis and get that person the appropriate care and services needed to keep him or her out of the criminal justice system.
Sounds a lot like what the people demanding police reform are calling for, right?
Turns out, it's the Aurora Police Department and Family Service Association that have partnered together in this new program called Crisis Intervention Team Enhanced (CITE), which was intended to roll out in March had COVID-19 not gotten in the way.
Perhaps the timing has never been better, as activists across the country and certainly here in Aurora are calling for more trained social workers to respond to emergency calls, particularly when mental illness is involved.
And CITE, which is being billed as a "paradigm in law enforcement training and mental health community partnership," has the potential to be just what the doctor ordered.
At least that's the hope of CITE Coordinator Doug Rashkow, a long-time crisis intervention specialist and police officer with the APD, and Janeth Barba, Family Service Association clinical director of social work, who is supervising this new program that includes a full-time social worker and two master's-degree level social work interns who have an office at Aurora police headquarters in order to provide the fastest response possible to those in crisis.
While most police agencies have implemented some sort of mental health crisis team, Barba says CITE is the only program in the state that, in addition to the Mental Health Juvenile Justice program, also uses the Screening Assessment Support Services, a 24/7 mobile crisis unit in Kane and Kendall counties that can authorize intensive mental health placement for children and teens that can be done directly from the home, school or hospital.
Officers, of course, provide the de-escalation skills necessary to make a situation safe for the social workers, who in turn, come in to help with assessment, intervention, stabilization and linking the person in crisis -- and his or her family -- to community resources.
"We each have individual roles that complement each other," said Barba, adding that, at this roll-out point, "we are adjusting as we go ... creating and developing the program" that will work best for the people it serves.
Rashkow says he's seen over and over the value to a responding police officer when the team comes on the scene, as was the recent case of a suicidal man who is "now doing really well" after he was found sitting inside his car, "feeling helpless and hopeless until we could give him hope."
The new program has also formed a strong partnership with AMITA Health Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, said Rashkow, to help "overcome barriers between other community partners" that include Hesed House, Association for Individual Development and Adult Protective Services.
Cost of the $79,000 program -- Aurora University evaluates it for its effectiveness -- is largely through funding from the Dunham Fund, Family Service Association, Kane County Court Services and some discretionary money from several aldermen.
As of Friday, there have been 273 individuals who have had contact with CITE since the roll-out of the program, said Barba, with a goal of 75% of those receiving after-care services.
The goal, she added, is to reduce recidivism by 25%, referrals to the juvenile justice services by 20% and transports to the youth home by 20%.
I'm giving you all these facts and statistics, by the way, because even though the APD has had a crisis intervention team around for a number of years, and has gradually been beefing up training for its officers, there's still a lot of people who don't know about it, said Rashkow, and more officers who need to rely on it.
About 35% to 40% of APD officers have had Crisis Intervention Team training, which is higher than the Justice Department recommendation. But what's been especially encouraging, he added, is "that younger officers are volunteering much earlier."
Rashkow blames the "slow progress" on the fact "culture had to catch up" to the need to address mental health issues. But right now, he said, "we are at a critical point and it's catch-up time."
"Unaddressed needs," Barba added, "turn in to bigger crises."
Rashkow is encouraged by the growing move to decriminalize mental illness because it's been more than proven the criminal justice system is not the best avenue to address these problems or prevent further issues.
This program is an important step in the right direction, "but has a long way to go in being as effective as it could," he said.
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