Upstate News

March 29, 2005
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Number of children receiving mental health services triples under new joint Onondaga County, SUNY Upstate program

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -The Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University and the Onondaga County Department of Social Services (DSS) are caring for more children in need outpatient mental health services through a joint initiative known as the Comprehensive Care System (CSS).

CSS Director Michael Gordon, Ph.D., and Medical Director Jud Staller, M.D., both members of SUNY Upstate faculty, report that the number of children referred by DSS for mental health services has almost tripled since the program’s inception in 2001, from 40 to over 100 referrals in each of the last three years. Gordon attributes the increase to CSS’s record of providing accessible, quality, seamless care to troubled children and their families.

CSS was designed by SUNY Upstate mental health experts and then-DSS Deputy Commissioner Diane ErnĂ© to integrate the mandates of the child welfare system with the goals of state-of-the art psychiatric management. “The worlds of child welfare and child psychiatry are so different, that we needed to focus on developing a productive collaboration among caseworkers, clinicians and administrators,” Gordon noted.

CSS offers referred children guaranteed quick access to a full array of integrated psychiatric services, both psychotherapeutic and psycho-pharmacological. “Our overriding principle is that treatment should be coordinated among everyone involved in helping the family,” said Gordon. “The best way to ensure seamless, high quality care is to provide as many of the services as possible under one roof, but also to work closely with providers, schools and agencies outside our walls

CSS staff comprises child psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, psychiatric social workers and clinical psychologists from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences who also coordinate efforts with Enhance, a SUNY Upstate program that provides health care and mental health consultations for all foster children in the county.

“CSS is the only program that we are aware of in New York state that has so tightly bundled a system of mental health care with the child welfare system,” said Gordon. “In the process, both of our institutions along with the community and its most vulnerable children have benefited,” he said.

Since CSS’ inception in September 2001, CSS has treated almost 400 children and their families. A CSS goal is to develop a parent services program that would provide psychiatric services for those parents with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Their treatment would be fully integrated into the family’s overall array of CSS services.

Onondaga County DSS has care and custody of about 450 children who in 350 foster homes. Another 700 families are involved with DSS through Preventive Services.

According to Brian McKee, deputy commissioner for Children Services and a prime force in the evolution of CSS: “This partnership is one of many successful arrangements we have within the mental health system for the provision of clinical services to the children we share. The success of this arrangement is mainly attributable to the implicit commitment of agency and county staff to meeting the needs of children in Onondaga County.”

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