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Douglas County secures grant to address youth mental health support

Omaha, Nebraska – In the Omaha metro area and across the nation, there’s a pressing issue that needs immediate attention: the provision of funds for addressing mental health concerns among youth. Recognizing this need, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners has made a significant stride forward. They recently secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Mental Health Program, amounting to nearly $550,000. This substantial sum is earmarked for the expansion of the county’s existing behavioral health initiative, a step that could bring about substantial changes in the community.

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One of the primary uses of this grant will be to employ a clinical or assessment psychologist. This professional will be responsible for conducting court-ordered evaluations and testing. Currently, such processes can take anywhere from two to three months. However, with this new initiative, the turnaround time is expected to be reduced to one to two weeks. This improvement could be pivotal in providing timely assistance to those in need.

Furthermore, the funds will facilitate the hiring of a school psychologist. This role is crucial for administering academic testing, helping children succeed in school, and identifying their educational needs. Early intervention and support in the educational domain can significantly influence a child’s overall development and future prospects.

The grant also makes provision for a part-time attorney from the education rights counsel. This individual will advocate for youth and their families within academic settings, ensuring their rights are upheld and their voices heard.

All these efforts are geared toward reducing recidivism among young offenders. The need for such measures becomes evident when considering a 2020 study that highlighted a concerning statistic: nearly 90 percent of those in Douglas County’s youth corrections system are people of color. This disparity calls for culturally competent approaches in dealing with mental health and educational challenges.

Jaquala Yarbro, a race equity strategist, emphasizes the need for culturally sensitive and competent community providers. “I’m hoping that they turn over a new leaf and do something different than the conventional way that they’ve usually done things,” Yarbro stated. Her sentiments underscore the importance of an inclusive approach that respects and understands the cultural dynamics within the community.

Roscoe Wallace, who works in restorative justice practices, also pointed out the stigma attached to therapy, especially among kids. He stressed the need for approaches that resonate with the youth, in a language and manner they can relate to and accept.

While the three-year grant may seem like a small step in addressing a widespread issue, it harbors the potential to ignite significant change. The county’s goal, as stated in the application for the grant, is to serve 400 at-risk kids each year. This initiative is not just about the funds; it’s about creating a ripple effect that could transform lives and steer troubled children away from the justice system. It’s about laying the groundwork for a healthier, more supported, and understanding community for the youth of Douglas County.

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