• July 2007
  • Vol. 8, No. 6

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Mental Illness Prevention in Child Welfare

Children involved with the child welfare system are at increased risk of developing behavioral and mental health problems throughout their lives. A recent article in the Child Welfare League of America's The Link describes how child welfare programs can adapt a mental health model (the Early Risers "Skills for Success" program) that incorporates both prevention and treatment to reduce the negative mental health outcomes of maltreatment.

The new Early Risers Community Integration Model uses a comprehensive family assessment to determine the level of mental health services needed. As part of the prevention approach, children who have experienced abuse, neglect, domestic violence, adoption, and homelessness may receive services—even if they have not shown symptoms of problem behaviors. Based on the needs of the family, three levels of services (basic, tailored, or specialized) are offered, with a focus on preventive components that improve the child's emotional and interpersonal skills, increase parenting skills, and expand the family's social support system.

The program includes 2 years of intensive intervention and stresses the importance of continuous health maintenance after the intervention to ensure that new problems are addressed throughout the child and family's lifetime. A family advocate may serve as the liaison for mental health services by collaborating with the child welfare case manager to determine the level of services and to coordinate service delivery.

According to the authors, the incorporation of the model into child welfare systems is best accomplished if:

  • Services are voluntary.
  • A comprehensive risk and strength assessment is used.
  • Services are tailored to individual child and family needs.
  • Families' preferences are part of the decision-making process.

To read the full article, "Early-Age Targeted Prevention of Mental Health Problems and Juvenile Delinquency for Maltreated Children: The Early Risers Skills for Success Community Integration Program," by Gerald J. August, George M. Realmuto, and Abigail Gewirtz, published in The Link, Volume 5(4), visit the Child Welfare League of America website:

www.cwla.org/programs/juvenilejustice/thelink2007spring.pdf (PDF - 32 KB)

Related Item

For more information on family assessment, the Children's Bureau website provides Comprehensive Family Assessment Guidelines for Child Welfare:

www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/family_assessment/index.htm

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