Access for children and their families to needed services of mental and behavioral health are improving greatly for Delta County residents, the county commissioners were told on Sept. 21.

The Families Plus program founded in 1998 by psychologist Brenda Holland and directed by her, along with an associate, John VanDenBerg, presented the Board of County Commissioners with an encouraging update of progress during the BoCC's regular meeting.

The board of commissioners which helped establish Families Plus with a $50,000 contribution in 1998, had also recently given its endorsement on a grant request Holland submitted for federal funding. Holland said that to her surprise the grant was awarded. It will now allow new staff to be hired and new clients to be taken into the children's mental and behavioral counseling programs available.

The grant will provide $200,000 per year for three years to make services available and improve access to mental and behavioral counseling. It will make some counselors available for immediate access at a local doctor's office, according to the report the commissioners received.

In addition, the program is now qualified for billing Medicaid directly for certain kinds of therapeutic assistance for local children.

Holland said receiving the grant is "really big" for children's mental health programs here. "We're doing good work here," she told the BoCC.

The Families Plus program is currently helping provide services for about 60 youth, Holland reported. VanDenBerg added there are probably some 320 children in the county who are in need of the services.

VanDenBerg explained to the county commissioners that there is still a stigma that individuals and families see attached to seeking mental health services for their children. By having a counselor available in a regular physician's office, the access to needed counseling will be greatly eased.

VanDenBerg told the commissioners, "We are moving in the direction of integration" of available programs and services including doctors' offices, the schools, and the county health and human services department.

"We are working toward the model of a therapist in the doctor's office," he said. "It will increase children's mental health service capacity dramatically."

He explained that it will increase effectiveness of outcomes and eliminate waste that occurs with having multiple programs operating separately. Because of various funding constraints, the Families Plus program has become "the de facto child mental health agency" for Delta County, he added.

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