Drug task force says new adolescent program serves need

A new mental health treatment program for adolescents has come to Venango County.

The Regional Counseling Center of Oil City opened its child and adolescent partial program in November.

Partial therapy lies somewhere between outpatient care and inpatient hospitalization. It is intended for adolescents with severe mental health needs such as trauma, severe depression or anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

The new program fills a need in Venango County and is the only one of its kind here. Before it began, adolescents had to be sent out of the county for such treatment, said Marie Plumer, the county’s substance abuse director.

About two years ago, public schools began calling for a partial hospitalization option for adolescents, Plumer said. Such a program offers a middle alternative for youth who need more care than they can get in outpatient but less than they would receive in a hospital.

The Venango County Drug Abuse Task Force discussed adolescents as an underserved group at the panel’s meeting last week.

“There is a vacuum,” said Tammy Aylesworth, the center’s director. Other programs like theirs do exist, she said, but they are out of the county.

The Regional Counseling Center competed to conduct the adolescent partial program and was selected by the county by its proposal. The counseling center is a private nonprofit organization that contracts with the county to provide mental health services, Aylesworth said.

Young people get to the program through a variety of means. Some are self-referred. Some are referred by schools and some are coming from inpatient hospital stays, said Hope Thomas, the program’s director.

The partial program is an intense five days per week and six hours per day. Students continue their school work while they are in classes set up by the intermediate unit. The program runs through the summer but there is no educational component then.

Students aged 12 to 18 receive individualized treatment in the program guided by trained therapist. A psychiatrist makes regular visits.

Thomas said the program is set up to serve 15 adolescents and there are now 11 enrolled.

Ideally, the partial program can provide an intervention so that teens don’t end up in inpatient if they haven’t already been there. “We want to prevent a kid from going to the hospital,” Thomas said.

“We want to prevent a crisis situation.”

The program emphasizes a family component and now that Venango County has a partial program for teens, families can be more involved, Aylesworth said.

“We really believe we’re going to help the child as much as we’re going to support the family,” she said.

The counseling center has not advertised the new partial program but they have done outreach to schools and mental health caseworkers.

People cannot just call to get in the program the way they would an outpatient appointment. A medical assessment would have to be performed before an adolescent is entered into the higher-level intensive care option. People may call the center to request an assessment, however, Aylesworth said.

After completing the partial program, adolescents may be referred to outpatient care, Thomas said. “It really is based on need and how much we’re able to resolve here,” she said.

Adolescents today face a variety of challenges. Social media adds another layer that youngsters just a generation ago didn’t have to deal with, Thomas said.

Often youth don’t talk about their problems and the dynamic of the partial program is helpful.

“By being here in a group they learn it’s OK to struggle with these things,” Thomas said.

Plumer added that the overdose task force is planning a mini-summit with schools to address the gaps in adolescent mental health care in the county.

“We’re obviously missing something,” Plumer said.

“The issue becomes clear how many kids are struggling,” Thomas said.