Photograph by Ben Fournier
Christy Pennington (left) and Charlotte Strazdus
Childhood isn’t always carefree. Kids can suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Delaware Guidance Services for Children and Youth Inc. (DGS) provides quality mental health services for children, youth and their families.
“Studies say that as many as one in five children are dealing with some sort of mental health issue,” says Christy Pennington, chief advancement officer.
“We believe that all children have a right to good mental health and should have access to quality therapeutic care, regardless of their ability to pay.”
In the past year, 18,000 kids in Delaware received services from the agency. They range in age from 2-18. About 80 percent were on Medicaid, the government program for people who are poor or disabled.
DGS has achieved a 90 percent success rate in helping kids, as indicated by parents who say their children’s behavior has improved. The goal is not only to help kids in childhood but to give them the tools they need to thrive as grownups. “We teach them coping skills they can carry into adulthood,” Pennington says.
Founded in 1952 by the Junior League of Wilmington, DGS began as a one-psychiatrist operation in a borrowed space. It is now the largest, single, not-for-profit provider of comprehensive psychiatric services for children and their families in Delaware with a staff of 200, an annual budget of $12 million and five locations statewide.
“It all started with a pediatrician who thought that the mental health of children should be addressed as well as their physical health,” Pennington says. There are lots of reasons why children need care, ranging from temper tantrums to thoughts of harming themselves. “Some kids come in with mood disorders or behavior problems in the classroom,” she says. “Frequently, we see kids who are neglected and abused.”
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Referrals come from families, school districts, clergy and other nonprofits. The state contracts with DGS to provide crisis care and intensive outpatient programs. In outpatient therapy, teams of social workers and community interventionists work with children on an individual basis for four to six hours a week in an effort to prevent hospitalization.
There also are programs to educate parents on better managing behavioral problems at home. A psychiatrist and a licensed psychiatric nurse practitioner work with kids and parents to monitor medications. Pennington notes there is a shortage of child psychiatrists in Delaware, mirroring a national trend. In response, DGS has developed an advanced clinical training program that allows master’s level graduates to train under licensed supervisors.
“With an estimated 25,000 children and adolescents in need of care, it is critical that we have a quality professional workforce available to meet that growing need,” she says.
Looking forward, DGS is striving to make services more accessible by increasing their outreach into the community and forming new partnerships with other organizations. DGS is committed to keeping abreast of new treatments and utilizing a best practices approach to making them available to
kids who need help. For more info, visit www.delawareguidance.org.