Officials Seek Temporary Housing and Services for High-Needs Youth

Without help, Wyoming’s at-risk adolescents face ER visits, detention centers, jail stints, homelessness or worse

Korin Schmidt, director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, discusses the need for temporary housing and services for high-needs youth at the Wyoming Legislature’s Mental Health and Vulnerable Adults Task Force meeting on July 19. (Courtesy photo via Wyoming Legislature’s YouTube channel)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

State officials are seeking temporary housing and other services for high-needs adolescents, who could otherwise end up in detention centers or hospital emergency rooms while awaiting long-term placements.

The Wyoming Department of Family Services, along with the health department, presented at a state legislature task force meeting this week a draft  request for information about entities that can offer these services for up to 12 months. At-risk individuals could include 12- to 17-year-olds who have behavioral issues and who are diagnosed with conditions such as autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In general, what we are wanting to purchase is 24-hour care for these youth where they can be safe and where they can get their basic needs met,” Korin Schmidt, director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, told the Wyoming Legislature’s Mental Health and Vulnerable Adults Task Force on Wednesday. “We do not have a place oftentimes for children to be safe while they’re awaiting a high-level placement. So, as a result, oftentimes they end up in detention. They end up in an emergency room or they end up at the Wyoming Boys’ School or Wyoming Girls’ School.”

At any given time, there are between 10 to 20 adolescents, usually males, who need high-level services, according to Schmidt. When youth are referred to the state for help accessing emergency housing and treatment, they are at risk of becoming homeless or being admitted to county jails, detention centers or emergency departments, the request for information notes.

As outlined in the draft request, contractors interested in submitting a bid for services must be able to offer 24-hour room, board and supervision for up to 15 adolescents. All youth would not need to be housed in the same facility. Contractors also would be required to maintain an appropriate staff ratio; many high-need youth require 1:1 or 2:1 staffing.

Providers also would have to complete medication reviews and offer access to therapeutic assessments, medication management and necessary counseling, as well as obtain essential psychiatric or psychological evaluations. Contractors would be responsible for supplying free education and case management services.

During the meeting, Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, asked the task force whether these services would be provided in a standalone facility or attached to existing programs. She added that she expects two facilities to respond to the request for information.

Meanwhile, Stefan Johansson, director of the Wyoming Department of Health, asked about utilizing a state facility as temporary placement. He told the task force that responses or lack of responses to the request will help determine whether officials should move forward with a state-run facility.

The health department director added the Wyoming Life Resource Center could be an option, but noted he would not recommend the state hospital at this time. Rather than sending adolescents out of state, Johansson said his preference is to locate spaces and services in Wyoming.

“We stand ready to try and support this,” he said. “Regardless of what we do as a task force or what you all do as a legislature, we still got the 10 to 20 kids. I mean, that’s not going away.”

The task force voted to have the draft request reviewed and revised by the family services department and other collaborating state agencies before releasing it. Task force member Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) said the request will be sent to private providers, and those interested will share information on costs and operations. The task force, the health department and family services department will then evaluate those responses. He anticipates receiving responses this fall.

Larsen told the Wyoming Truth that establishing temporary housing and services for these high-needs individuals is a “very high priority” since they don’t receive mental health and education services when placed in a jail or hospital. “I think what the focus of our education, department of family services and department of health has always been is we want these kids to live at home with their families,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. So how do we get there?”

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