Mental Health and Medical Services

Caitlin Smith By Caitlin Smith

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the sixth in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. To start with the first entry, click here.

By 2011, CACs had a firm foothold in West Virginia. Now more than ever, if a child made an outcry, he or she would likely be able to get to a CAC for an interview and some of those life-saving investigative and treatment services. However, like many other CAC communities around the country, it was a struggle to establish and maintain mental health and medical services specific to the needs of the children and families we serve. There were few professionals around the state offering these services to children that met their unique needs after a report of abuse. As a network, 2011 was the year we committed to deepening our services.

CACs have always had national standards around their many services. The standards that went into effect in 2011 really raised the bar for mental health care for children, requiring that CACs connect children to treatments that were evidence-based (proven to help children heal) and trauma-focused. The standard course of treatment available from most mental health professionals in West Virginia at that time just wouldn’t cut it. Also around this time, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy emerged as a model of treatment that could meet children’s needs and easily be implemented across many existing practices. If kids were going to get the mental health they deserved, we would have to train and support providers to deliver this care. In our first year, 132 therapists and counselors were trained in this model. As of 2017, WVCAN has facilitated the training of 337 mental health professionals to deliver this treatment.

Toward the end of 2011, we faced a similar gap in the quality and accessibility of specialized child abuse medical care as we experienced with specialized mental health care. At that time, whether or not a child could receive a child abuse medical evaluation, and the quality of that evaluation, depended largely on where that child lived. Similar to the tiny professional base of mental health professionals trained to address the unique needs of survivors, West Virginia also had a too-small base of specialized medical providers.

To address these gaps in care, WVCAN convened a group of stakeholders and partner agencies to identify gaps in child abuse medical care and strategies to improve the quality and accessibility of these services. We started off meeting at a hotel in Huntington after an American Academy of Pediatrics chapter meeting to discuss what we knew, what we hoped, and how we could move forward. Grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Bernard McDonough Foundation supported the early development of this program, now called the WV Child Abuse Medical Program (WV-CHAMP). In the initial phase of this project, the group assessed existing resources in the state, built a structure to support and develop child abuse medical expertise in the state, and developed medical protocols to move toward standardization of child abuse medical care. Those professional supports continue today, and we still work together with our partners to find the best way to ensure that children get this service.

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