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Frontline Reports   |    
Police and Mental Health Collaborative Outreach
Susan S. Erstling, L.I.C.S.W., Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2006; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.57.3.417-a
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Clinical mental health services that are trauma informed are developing around the country. We adapted the Child Development—Community Policing (CDCP) model, which was developed at the Yale Child Study Center in conjunction with the New Haven police. The model brings clinicians immediately to the crime scene when police officers identify children who have witnessed violence. The clinicians provide intervention and follow-up to children who otherwise might be neglected or ignored after a critical incident. The goals are to attend to the children, acknowledge their exposure in a developmentally appropriate way, and decrease the impact of violence on their development.

In Providence, Rhode Island, after one year of responding on scene to such violent episodes, Family Service of Rhode Island mental health workers and Providence police officers established a collaborative proactive outreach approach to providing early intervention, support, resources, and culturally relevant follow-up. At first, a native Spanish-speaking intake coordinator participated in standard police "ride-alongs," visiting families whom the police knew needed assistance even before a critical incident occurred.

Later, funding was obtained through the Rhode Island Foundation to hire a Spanish-speaking mental health worker to ride along with police officers in a high-crime district three nights a week from 3 to 11 pm. Generally, a police officer and the mental health worker respond to all calls that occur in that district and visit with families and children that the officer has come to know through his or her community policing. The mental health worker has access to a licensed clinician on call at all times as well as additional staff if indicated.

The role of the mental health worker in partnership with the police is to provide interpretation, crisis intervention, brief assessment and referral, support, and information. If appropriate she can conduct an intake for follow-up services.

Common problems include parent-child conflict, runaways, domestic violence, parental depression, acting out among adolescents, gang affiliations, homicide, and parents' inability to manage their children. Many cases involve immigrants who do not understand how to gain access to mental health services and are more responsive to recommendations when someone speaks a familiar language.

During the first six months of funding, the mental health worker rode with 42 police officers, and more than 100 clients were served. Spending eight hours in a car together, police officers and the mental health worker learn to trust each other, a sine qua non of work in the community. We hope this outreach program diverts participants from the criminal justice system.

Dr. Erstling is vice-president of trauma, intake, and emergency services for the Family Service of Rhode Island, P.O. Box 6688, Providence, Rhode Island 02940-6688 (e-mail, erstlingsu@familyserviceri.org).

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