Saturday, September 3, 2016
[San Mateo] County defends its teen mental health responses: Officials issue reaction to civil grand jury report on helping minors in crisis
San Mateo County officials differed with most of the findings and recommendations in a recent civil grand jury report suggesting more should be done to help local teens suffering a mental health crisis.
The county Board of Supervisors is slated to approve during a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6, a response to the report “Teens in Mental Health Crisis: From 911 to the Emergency Room Door,” issued in June by the grand jury.
Much of the response from the office of County Manager John Maltbie is dedicated to defending the processes associated with offering urgent aid to teens and minors experiencing mental health trauma, as the county administers many of the area’s available emergency support services.
The initial report called for more collaboration, training, resources and education to improve care, but the county’s response agrees with only two of the grand jury’s eight findings and does not recognize any of the six recommendations as new ideas to be implemented.
County initiatives such as the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, administered through the Sheriff’s Office, and the health system’s San Mateo County Mental Health and Assessment Team, or SMART, program are recognized by the grand jury as useful in offering appropriate care to vulnerable teens.
The county’s response doubles down on such a position, acknowledging the programs are crucial to offering adequate emergency support and disputing claims that record keeping and training should be beefed up to improve the initiatives.
All county law enforcement officers are subject to eight hours of CIT training as part of their police academy education, according to the county’s report, in response to the grand jury’s finding that 20 percent of all law enforcement officers are educated in specialized response to mental health emergencies.
Police showing up to the scene of a teen or minor experiencing a mental health crisis in a discreet fashion is preferable to a response featuring sirens and lights, as it decreases the chance of further traumatizing a person already struggling, according to the grand jury report.
Such a technique is the type of lesson administered during CIT training, which the grand jury recommended should be amended to include more instruction specific to teens.
The county response indicated such a suggestion has already been implemented though, as the most recent CIT training included an expanded session including local school officials who offered guidance regarding best practices for dispatches to campus incidents.
CIT training is also an ideal opportunity for relationship building and idea exchange between law enforcement, education, mental health and other officials who can contribute to ensuring local teens are offered the best care possible, according to the grand jury report.
The county agreed with such a finding, and said in its report the Sheriff’s Office plans to further expand outreach to school officials and personnel from public agencies who may interact with a minor experiencing a mental health crisis, to build the network established through CIT training.
Another important component of ensuring vulnerable young people are not overwhelmed by the response to a mental health emergency is the SMART team, which dispatches trained professionals in a specialized van different from a police cruiser or ambulance to the scene of a crisis in an unassuming fashion, according to the grand jury.
Availability of SMART team services should be enhanced and response times should be tracked better to look for opportunities for service improvements, according to the grand jury, but both efforts are already underway according the county, though room for improvement exists.
“The current system to collect SMART response data provides sufficient information to determine the effectiveness of SMART, patterns of demand, geographic breakdown of where calls are generated from and demographic data,” according to the county’s report. “There is a need to improve data collection related to calls for assistance that emanate from school campuses.”
The county is not obligated to implement any of the grand jury’s recommendations and the response fulfills the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to acknowledge the initial report.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, 400 County Center in Redwood City.
September 2, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh