Wednesday, October 23, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Community Mental Health Act

On October 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act. These actions drastically altered the delivery of mental health services and inspired a new era of optimism in mental healthcare.

For millions of Americans living with a mental illness, this law opened the door to hope and recovery—to a life in the community. This legislation set the stage for an entirely new approach to recovery in the community, one marked by continually evolving care and treatment for Americans with mental illness.

Still, there is often a social stigma associated with mental illness which prevents people from seeking help. Many people are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek the help they need for themselves or their loved ones.

According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 1 in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. One in five children and adolescents in the United States struggles with a mental illness and up to one-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begins by the age of 14, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management.
Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood, and can cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school, and with their peers. Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and chronic health issues. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States (NAMI, 2013).
With a wide range of services tailored to their needs—that may or may not include medication—most people can significantly reduce the negative impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence.
In the wake of the new Mental Health Act in the 1960s, Arizona’s Children Association, along with the Arizona State Department of Health, also began to focus on the mental health needs of our children. Funds from the Federal Mental Health Act made it possible for our agency to hire our first psychiatric social worker assigned to work with the children residing at the original home on 8th Avenue in Tucson.
Today, Arizona’s Children Association’s (AzCA) Outpatient Behavioral Health Services continue to serve children, adolescents and young adults transitioning to adult services, and their families. Clients come from a wide variety of referral sources including Regional Behavioral Health Authorities (RBHA), Behavioral Health Networks, the Department of Economic Security, the Juvenile Court, local businesses, hospitals, physicians, schools, self-referrals, and private clients.
AzCA behavioral health service facilities are licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Services are designed to be a short term intervention that can assist in developing the skills and supports needed to increase independence and resiliency. The Outpatient department works with the family unit if at all possible. When this is not possible, every effort is made to intervene therapeutically in the environment in which the child or adolescent resides.
Types of services provided include counseling (family, group & individual), psychosocial rehabilitation, coordinating/case management, training, outreach, volunteer services, psychiatric services, Child & Family Teams (CFT) facilitation, school-based services, respite, and more. Child & Family Teams are a central focus of services, where the issues and needs of families are addressed not only clinically, but from a cultural, strengths based, community, natural resource, extended family, and spiritual approach. Teams are structured and function in a flexible manner to include varying levels of involvement from AzCA staff, other child serving agencies and natural supports. The structure of the team varies depending on the child and family’s strengths, the complexity of needs, and goals identified by the child, the family, and the team.
“As an agency, we are committed to reducing the stigma of mental illness by providing access to services quickly, in an environment that the family prefers, and by bringing the family, the professionals and community members they chose together at the CFT," said Jessie Gillam, director of operations for behavioral health. "The use of the CFT puts the child and their family in the driver's seat, as they are the experts, and allows the team to come together and work on a common goal.”
With a stronger community behavioral health safety net, people in need of services today have greater access to care and an entirely new approach to recovery in the community. We are proud to carry on a 50 year tradition of respectfully providing the care and compassion needed for those in our communities with mental illness.
As the stigma surrounding this issue decreases and the community is educated on the need to identify these issues in young people, we will empower vulnerable children and their families to improve their safety, health and well-being and increase their potential to lead productive and healthy lives.
For more information about AzCA’s behavioral health services, visit us online at

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Destined to Succeed

In the spring of 2011, we met a young man who had overcome many obstacles in his life. From a very young age, Nathan Delafield knew his life was different from other kids his age. He had almost no relationship with his father, and his mother moved from home to home to homeless shelter during his most influential years. And then, when Nathan was only eight years old, she left.
After being placed in foster care, Nathan was given the opportunity to move in with his Aunt Kate and Uncle Randy.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Kate. “We had only been in our house for a few months but Randy and I totally jumped into Nate’s life. He’s always been a great kid, and I knew everything would work out.”
Kate and Randy became licensed through through Arizona's Children Association specifically for Nathan and maintained their license until he turned 18.
“My first night in the house, when I went into the cupboards to start to make myself dinner, my aunt told me that adults do the cooking here but asked if I wanted to help her,” recalls Nathan. “I knew from that moment on that life was going to be very different from the life I knew up till then.”
Nathan grew up to be a successful young man. After graduating high school, Nathan graduated from Arizona State University with an award for most outstanding senior graduate for the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the “Spunky” Award (achieving a college education through adversity with Spunk) through the College of Liberal Arts and Science.
But, where is he now? After graduating from ASU, Nathan decided to further his education at the Indiana University School of Medicine. About a month ago, as he began his second year in medical school, Nathan received confirmation that he was awarded an all-inclusive scholarship through the National Health Service Corps to continue to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor without the outstanding indebtedness that many young physicians face. In return, Nathan has committed to enter into a primary-care medical field and he is particularly interested in working in the field of pediatrics. In Nathan’s opinion, working with children, particularly those in the underserved population will bring his “story” and life experiences full-circle.
Kate and Randy are thrilled with Nathan’s success and are proud of the man he has become. “My son is an exceptional inspiration and such an amazing man,” explained Kate.
“I can’t stress enough how my foster family changed my life,” Nathan says. “Up until I arrived at my Aunt and Uncle's home, I never even had my own bed to sleep in, and my shoes were hand-me-downs from my older brother. I was just a kid trying to survive and get by with the basics. This amazing opportunity changed my life, gave me a chance to thrive, and parents to guide me as I achieved my personal goals.”
“If there’s one thing I can remind potential foster families and foster kids, it’s to be patient with each other,” said Nathan. “Most of the kids in the foster program have seen or experienced things in their young lives that most adults will never encounter.”
For Kate and Randy, the past years were a learning process about raising a child and the foster care system. "Nate has touched our hearts in so many ways. He is an inspiration to the masses and we have been truly blessed to have him in our life,” said Kate. “I would encourage all families to educate themselves about the system. The more knowledge you have, the more power you have.”
We’re happy to say that Kate has been employed with Arizona’s Children Association for three years. She is currently working in our Prescott office in the ICPC program as a Sr. Resource Family Specialist and PSMAPP trainer working with kinship families and licensing. “I have always wanted to work for this agency,” said Kate. “They’ve given us so much help and support throughout the years. I have an amazing opportunity to work with families who face similar situations and use my experience to help guide them through this process.”
To learn more about the foster care and adoption programs at Arizona’s Children Association visit
*Photo (Left to right): Kate, Nathan and Randy Delafield