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Keeping our Children safe, an ongoing series- part 1

Staff Report
Over the coming weeks, the staff of the Huerfano World Journal will be publishing a series of articles titled: “Keeping Our Children Safe.” We hope you will enjoy reading this series and also that you will feel free to chime in as you see fit at editor@huerfanojournal.com.
WALSENBURG- Like many places in the U.S.A., Huerfano County has its share of tragedies among its children. Our young people have been involved in or impacted by accidental deaths, suicides, child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, violent crime, and unaddressed mental health needs. According to the literature…

many of these phenomena may be closely related — if not functioning as causes and effects for each other.
For example, unaddressed mental health needs can have tragic consequences throughout the stages of development. Lack of mental wellbeing can affect daily life, and any mood disorder, behavior disorder, or anxiety disorder can make the ordinary tasks of daily life seem unbearably hard. Young people may not know how to cope or where to turn for help. They may act out, resulting in such tragedies as self injury, harm to others, substance abuse, addiction, criminal sociopathy, or suicide. Competent early life interventions by licensed professionals for children exhibiting any sort of mental illness might help prevent a great deal of suffering.
Some of the signs and symptoms indicating that a child might currently have or eventually could have a psychiatric disorder include the following: social isolation, drastic changes in appetite (binging, purging) or sleep (insomnia or sleeping all the time), serious behavior problems (school suspensions), actual or threatened physical harm to self or others (including superficial cutting on self), very poor concentration, hopelessness, helplessness, substance abuse, truancy, court involvement, serious memory problems, marked nervousness, irrational fears, phobias, unexplainable and/or unwise risky behaviors, exaggerated startle response, or having survived or witnessed violent and/or potentially life threatening incidents.
Compounding these problems for youth, particularly in rural areas, there is often an absence of licensed clinicians, a lack of trust in licensed clinicians who tend to move into town from elsewhere, or phobias or stigmas related to using mental health services. Sometimes, even if a child needs help, parents are reluctant to do what it takes to get what the child truly needs.
If parents feel that their child may be in need of mental health care, they should be sure to consult a licensed clinical professional. Only a licensed clinical professional can make an official diagnosis and treat such problems.
In order to hold a clinical license to practice independently in a mental health field in the U.S., a licensed mental health professional must complete a related Bachelors degree as well as a Masters degree at an accredited university. Then they must go through two to five years of supervised training before they can sit for the exam, which they must pass in order to become licensed. Licensing also means that this professional is accountable to the State Board of Social Work, Psychiatric, Psychological or Counseling Examiners. People without licenses are not typically accountable to any such oversight.
The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies provides a way for consumers to check on the credentials of professionals such as mental health providers. One can search https://www.doradls.state.co.us/alison.php, select “individuals” and press “go to search form”, then type in the name of the professional whose license they wish to verify.
Searching this official website, parents will find that while the Huerfano County School Districts, South Central BOCES and Huerfano Social Services employ people that are referred to as psychologists, counselors, therapists and social workers, those fulltime agency employees practicing in Huerfano County may not hold active clinical licenses. These may be wonderful organizations with remarkable employees who do a wonderful job, but these employees do not hold currently active clinical licenses to practice independently in a mental health setting in Colorado.
On the other hand, there are professionals practicing in the county or nearby who can help. There are two Licensed Clinical Social Workers based in Walsenburg, Patricia W. Henry and Dr. William Beverly; another based in La Veta, Loanne M. Shackelford; and a Licensed Psychologist based in Rye, Dr. Sharla Marek. There are also several Licensed Clinical Psychologists, Clinical Social Workers, and Professional Counselors practicing in cooperation with the Huerfano/Las Animas Family Resource Center and Spanish Peaks Mental Health.
Mental illness in children can lead to very serious and often irreparable consequences and tragedies. The quality of a child’s life is important and affects how they treat themselves and others in the long run. How we address (or fail to address) mental health issues in children can have a serious impact on them as children and as adults and sometimes a devastating impact on other members of our community. The first calls for help often come from the child and are difficult to interpret without proper training. In order for licensed clinicians to help, these cries for help must also be heard and endorsed by a parent or guardian. As parents who love our children, we can do the right thing.

How to pay for services
Most insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid include some coverage for mental health care. For others, the Family Resource Center in Walsenburg/Trinidad pays for counseling for any family with a child under 18 and an income of less than around $72,000 per year (738-2076). Spanish Peaks Mental Health (719) 738-2386), and/or charities such as Catholic Charities (719-544-4233 or 800-303-4690) often provide mental health care for free or at a reduced rate.

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