A lifeline for troubled children

March 16, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

A partnership led by the Johns Hopkins University launched yesterday a vast network of East Baltimore mental health services intended to serve as a national model for treating children with severe emotional or behavior problems.

The East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership -- a five-year effort financed with a $15 million federal grant -- will open mental health centers this summer in 19 schools and attempt to coordinate often disjointed services to treat about 600 children.

"It really does take a whole village to raise a child. We need to reach these children before the crisis stage," said Philip Leaf, a Hopkins professor and executive director of the partnership.

"We're really losing the children. They're going to prison, they're dropping out of school, and they're turning to violence and drugs. We can't afford to have a community and a city with so many children failing."

Too often, Dr. Leaf said, children receive treatment for mental illness much later than they should -- when they attempt suicide or become addicts, for instance.

Dr. Leaf, who wrote the proposal for the grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, joined Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and representatives of other state agencies and community organizations to announce the effort at Madison Square Elementary School and Recreation Center in East Baltimore. One of the clinics will open at the center.

The partnership will focus on a roughly six-square-mile area with about 65,000 residents living in some of Baltimore's poorest, most violent neighborhoods.

More than half of the children in the area live in poverty, the median household income was $15,256 in 1990, and the neighborhoods suffer from the predictable urban ills of drug abuse, teen pregnancy and single-parent homes.

The school-based centers will be a linchpin of the effort, offering evaluations by mental health professionals, counseling, individual and group therapy, and referrals to Hopkins or other outside agencies when necessary.

The clinics are to be open during the school day, in the evenings and during the summer.

In addition, the partnership will:

* Coordinate the work of schools, juvenile services, clergy, police, health and social service workers, and the courts to ensure that their work is complementary and meets children's needs. Each child treated is to be referred to a case manager to devise a "service plan" tailored to the child's needs.

* Provide emergency overnight shelter for children living in homes beset by child abuse, violence or addictions. Sites have yet to be determined but will be by summer, Hopkins officials said.

* Hire about 15 community "liaisons" who will help identify youngsters who need counseling or therapy and assist parents with everything from transportation to applying for welfare.

* Provide staffers, on call 24 hours a day, for crisis intervention.

Mr. Schmoke praised the effort as a model that will bring help to children where and when they need it most, while eliminating the bureaucratic runaround and some of the stigma associated with mental illness.

"This is truly a public-private partnership . . . working together to prevent troubled children and adolescents from falling between the cracks," he said.

Counseling also will be available in Head Start preschool programs.

Hopkins' School of Hygiene and Public Health will work with partners that include Johns Hopkins Hospital, the city and state school systems, the Police Department, juvenile services workers, clergy, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Liberty Medical Center, health and social service agencies, and mental health care providers.

Hopkins' proposal beat out many others in the competition for the federal grant, which is aimed at financing innovative pilot programs to reach inner-city youngsters.

The Health and Human Services Department received 47 proposals and provided money for four. The other grants went to public-private partnerships in South Carolina, Vermont and Ohio.

In early February, the Hopkins medical institutions, the city and the state announced an even broader program of providing aid to the struggling East Baltimore area.

In that program, plans were outlined for revitalizing about 180 square blocks, the hope at that time being to attract "tens of millions" of dollars in development money over the next few years.

The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition was formed with the goal of improving housing, fostering business development and jobs, and improving social services in the decayed neighborhoods around Hopkins Hospital.

At the time of the February announcement, Mr. Schmoke said the East Baltimore effort, along with another in Sandtown-Winchester, would help the city compete to be one of nine federal empowerment zones, a designation that would bring in an additional $100 million from the federal government.

The coalition announced last month was established with grants of $150,000 apiece from the city, the state and the Hopkins medical institutions. Part of its mission was to seek government grants and private investors.

LOCATIONS OF SCHOOL-BASED CENTERS

Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary

Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary

City Springs Elementary

Collington Square Elementary

Commodore John Rodgers Elementary

Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle

Paul Laurence Dunbar High

General Wolfe Elementary

Harford Heights Elementary

Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary

Thomas G. Hayes Elementary

Elmer A. Henderson Elementary

Johnston Square Elementary

Lake Clifton-Eastern Sr. High

Lombard Middle

Madison Square Elementary

Luther Craven Mitchell Primary Center

Mildred Monroe Elementary

Tench Tilghman Elementary

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