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Finding mental health and substance use support for children and teens can overwhelm and frustrate families. The more organizations involved, the more challenging it becomes. Often, families that are going through an incredibly challenging time aren’t aware of the community and state resources that could help them, and don’t understand the complex rules around who the organizations serve, and who they don’t. All the while, children and teens aren’t getting the support they need.
That’s where wraparound facilitators come in.
Wraparound facilitators help families find, and connect with, the services they need and are qualified for. In wraparound, the entire team supporting a family–including the wraparound facilitator and representatives from any other service organization involved–meets regularly so everyone is on the same page and the family gets the most effective support possible.
“The family builds their wraparound team with the people they want. They run the show,” says Elizabeth Spring, a program administrator at Washtenaw County’s youth and family services. The wraparound facilitator makes sure that the family’s needs and preferences are understood throughout the process and that the young person receives the help they need. By addressing youth concerns early, wraparound can prevent some more severe problems later in life.
In 2013, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services approved Washtenaw County’s youth and family services team as a wraparound service provider. Schools and other community organizations soon began referring families to the wraparound program, and the team quickly realized that it “didn’t have the capacity it needed to meet the needs of a county our size,” says Spring.
To be able to serve more families, youth and family services used funding from the Washtenaw County Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage to hire wraparound facilitator Jessy K. Pérez this February.
Q: How did you get started with wraparound?
A: “I have a background working individually with families and as a case manager and social worker. I have worked with refugees and other people who are learning a new system in the US, so it’s natural for me to talk to a family and explain systems, help them access them, and support them in receiving the help that’s available in the community. In wraparound, there’s an additional component of people having more of a voice in terms of what they envision for themselves and their families, which is great.”
Q: How does wraparound work?
A: “You sit down with the family and help them develop their goals. It’s all about what they envision for themselves and their families. That’s a very interesting and powerful process. You really learn that people have a very good idea of what they want. Sometimes, when they are working with too many systems, it’s hard to figure that out. That’s how wraparound is different, because it all comes from what people want for their families. Then we sit down at the table with the other systems the family is interacting with, and everybody works towards the goal that the family has set up for themselves.”
Q: What is the impact of wraparound?
“It’s tiring for people to be involved with so many systems and to have to repeat themselves every time they meet with a new caseworker, a new system, a new intake person. Wraparound provides the opportunity for people to just say it once, and to have agreements between everybody at the table. I have worked at places where I’m working on an application and I find out there’s another agency working on the same application. Time can be better spent with the family if we all have a different task. Wraparound is family oriented and less about what my organizational goals are, more about what the family’s goals are. I see that as a great advantage.”
Q: Who is involved in a wraparound case?
A: “Usually the school system is involved, and sometimes the juvenile justice system and other community organizations. We also seek out natural supports, which are people in the family’s lives. When we ask who are the people in their lives, people tend to say, ‘I don’t have anybody.’ Then we ask, who would you call if you had to go to the hospital, if you ran out of gas? Sometimes people do feel lonely and that they don’t have support. When you ask these questions, people realize they actually have some people they can count on, and they can see themselves in a different light as people who are supported and cared for.”
Q: What are some situations where wraparound can make a difference?
A: “We get a lot of referrals from schools for truancy. Sometimes Child Protective Services is involved, sometimes a youth is returning from a residential setting or a long hospitalization, sometimes there’s an incarcerated parent.
“Recently, a child was referred to us because of behavioral issues at home and at school. This child had been witnessing his brother get very, very sick. We’re trying to figure out how to get help for everybody in the family, because they’re all being affected. We’re finding the mom respite care and support, and we’re connecting with their healthcare provider. It’s a very holistic process, very family centered.
“In another example, a teenager decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore. This was brought up during a wraparound team meeting. The people on the team reminded him what the process was like before he came to this school, why he wanted to go there, and how it took the work of everybody at wraparound to get him there. That changed his perspective and reminded him of what his goals are. Nobody said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ He made the decision on his own, and by the next meeting, he was back at the school.”
Q: How does a wraparound case end?
A: “The average stay in wraparound is nine months to a year. We always bring it back to the vision and goal the family develops at the beginning. When the Wraparound goals have been met, the family graduates and we celebrate. Families may transfer to a community provider or they may not need services anymore. By the time the end of wraparound comes, families have usually established relationships with community organizations and natural supports, so they are more empowered to contact them and ask for the things they need. They know in what ways different people and organizations can come through for them.”
Spring thinks that hiring Pérez will have a big impact. “It builds our capacity to serve more families,” she says. “We are seeing a lot more mental health requests since COVID, so there’s been a bigger need for services and support.”
“The goal is to keep kids in our community thriving, getting the education they need, and being a kid, while making sure the parents feel that they have the resources they need to take care of their children and feel safe,” Spring adds.
Spring and Pérez are grateful that the millage can provide funding for these youth services. “We serve some of the most vulnerable children and families in our community,” says Spring. “When we make things better for families, we make our community better.”