Free Mental Health Care Available for Children in Pontiac Thanks to Partnership Between CNS and Ascend Foundation – Oakland County Times


Free mental health care is available for Pontiac children thanks to the partnership between the CNS and the Ascend Foundation

(Natalie Broda, May 9, 2022)

Pontiac, MI – More than 150 children in Pontiac will now have access to free mental health services thanks to a new partnership between the Clarence E. Phillips Ascend Foundation and CNS health care.

This is a collaboration that offers elementary and high school students and their families the opportunity to receive free comprehensive mental health services, with or without insurance, from the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic.

During the pandemic, the CNS has seen its requests for services increase from an average of 150 calls per month to between 350 and 400 calls per month in 2022. This increase directly reflects what Kaino Phillips, founder and CEO of the Ascend Foundation, said he saw. in his children of the Ascend Youth Coalition for the past few years.

The coalition, which offers mentoring and academic support services, is currently made up of 156 Pontiac children, from grade seven to high school senior year. Children are encouraged to engage in peer-to-peer discussions on issues that impact their lives. Last year, an ongoing conversation about teen substance abuse turned into a group call to action, according to Phillips.

“For years, our kids have talked about substance use, they’ve been advocating for healthy lifestyles among their peers, and they’ve talked about the real issues. Thanks to this, we found that we were missing a step. A lot of these kids are using substances to try to escape their reality, and some of these kids are going through real hardships in their own homes and it’s costing them mentally. We needed to find a viable vehicle to work on these mental health disparities, and that’s where CNS came in,” Phillips said.

At the time, Phillips was a board member of the mental health organization. After a brief conversation with Michael Garrett, President and CEO of CNS, Phillips resigned from his position in order to create the new bridge allowing children in the coalition to use their services for free. It’s currently a two-year partnership with plans to expand the program if successful, according to Garrett. The nonprofit mental health organization currently operates in 27 schools in Wayne County and Oakland, providing licensed psychologists and social workers among its other programs.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer this,” Garrett said. “We all know what happened at Oxford High School and how it showed us that children need resources, that they need to be heard and dealt with when issues arise. This program will help break down the stigma around mental health by having a trusted community partner available where people don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help.

As a certified community behavioral health clinic, CNS receives federal funding that allows the nonprofit to offer services at little or no cost to those who are uninsured or underinsured. No insurance will be required for children and families accessing this program.

Another benefit, according to Phillips, is the ability for the foundation to now provide additional support once a child receives mental health services. The program will allow the foundation to work directly with the CNS to monitor a child’s mental state, without being bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

“Now we can fully understand a child’s problem, instead of just relying on what they share with mentors,” Phillips said. “Once they enter professional services, we will be there to hug them as usual. This gives children an extra, safe space to work on whatever is happening.

As the partnership evolved, parents and guardians were also added to the program’s roster to access free services. Phillips said in many cases just working with the child in a home won’t help solve the whole problem – it’s the parents who need support too.

Late last year, the youth coalition partnered with Oakland University to produce a mental health public service video series. Coco Moulder, a longtime Pontiac teacher and co-lead of early childhood education programs with the Oakland University/Pontiac Initiative, helped the children create these videos.

“In 2016, we made a shift to look at what was happening in the community as a whole. We looked at research on negative childhood experiences and found that if we could build the resilience of this community, we could lead the general public to understand that childhood trauma affects the whole city,” said Mold. “I’m a psychologist and I can tell you young people want to have these conversations, they want to do the work, we as adults just have to figure out how to approach it. If we can, it’s a win-win situation.

The program started in November and is now gaining momentum as more families seek out the free services through the coalition. Phillips said he could already feel the change in the community.

“It’s so much better for me and for the parents to know that I can pick up the phone right now and have access to everything our children need for their mental health. We don’t send them back to the queue or send them from agency to agency,” Phillips said. “It’s quick and immediate help, which is so important. Time is too often an obstacle for those who need this kind of service.

The Ascend Foundation and CNS are currently in talks to extend the program to elementary school students.

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