Lately, Chuck Haas, begins his workday making rounds and checking-in on staff. His team of caregivers sees families on their most stressful day. "We got introduced to Albertina Kerr in the emergency room," a parent of a Kerr client explains. "My daughter had a suicide attempt—it was quite scary—she was already engaged in therapy, but we knew we needed something more intense."
As the director of Kerr's Children's Mental Health Services, Haas points out that research has shown one of the most important ways to help kids in crisis is to connect them with someone who will listen and validate their life experiences. “That’s what Kerr’s Child and Family Therapists (CFTs) do every day,” he says. CFTs assess the needs of youth ages 5 to 18 and coordinate mental health services for children and their families using individualized, innovative and evidence-based practices.
“When you’re in a crisis it’s not just the kiddo who is in crisis, the whole family is in crisis,” a parent of a Kerr client adds. According to Mental Health America’s 2020 State of Mental Health in America, Oregon ranks 47th in prevalence of mental illness among youth. A 2019 survey found 20% of Oregon 8th graders seriously considered taking their own life. This was before the disruptions of 2020.
The report also revealed, throughout the pandemic, youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Adverse childhood experiences put kids on a higher trajectory for mental health challenges,” Haas notes. “If we can help them develop coping skills to mitigate the difficulties they have encountered, we can improve their quality of life.”
But a new crisis has emerged. Kerr is currently experiencing a dearth of individuals who are trained in mental health intervention. Haas states, “This is a national problem that's really been made worse by the pandemic; many professionals are feeling burned out.” Kelli MacKay, a Kerr clinical supervisor, notes,
“We're all going through this collective trauma with COVID, and so a lot of the challenges kids and families are having are related to something that every therapist is also experiencing.”
Due to the shortage of qualified CFTs, Kerr and other local providers of children’s mental health services are confronting difficulties in meeting the growing need for mental health care. “To know that there’s a team supporting you once you walk through the door to the minute you leave is so vital,” a parent of a Kerr client asserts.
To address these new challenges, Kerr is creating a Recruitment and Retention Fund to attract, develop, and retain qualified CFTs. When fully funded, Kerr’s CFT Recruitment and Retention Fund will incentivize and support 17 CFTs. This in turn will allow Kerr to provide 70,000 hours of mental health care for more than 750 children and their families.
“Where we are as a family and where my daughter is in her mental health journey would not have been possible without Kerr,” a parent of a Kerr client proclaims. “Through the therapy, there was this major sense of relief. There’s hope—we need to do whatever we can to make sure this service stays alive and well in the community.”
Each year Kerr serves more than 300 children and teens in crisis. “Our short-term residential treatment program and 24-hour access to mental health professionals quickly stabilize kids,” Haas says. “As a result, they return home safely to their family. We also have outpatient services that are more intensive than classic outpatient services.”
To learn more about Kerr’s Children’s Mental Health Services and the CFT Retention and Recruitment Fund, visit AlbertinaKerr.org.
Since 1907, Albertina Kerr has been caring for Oregon’s most vulnerable citizens. Today, Kerr offers children and teens struggling with life’s challenges crisis psychiatric care and outpatient mental health services. Kerr also provides safe and supportive 24-hour residential care for individuals experiencing intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD), and employment services for adults with I/DD.