Kansas-based organization offers therapeutic school plus specialized outreach, SUD, and autism programs.
Kids TLC, a nonprofit program for children based in Olathe, Kansas, has a broad mission: helping child and their families cope with autism, mental illness and wellness issues. Robert Drummond, Ed.D., president and CEO, and Mark Siegmund, Chief Operations Officer and a licensed certified professional counselor, spoke to Behavioral Healthcare about how the program works.
There are four components: a psychiatric residential treatment facility, an outpatient department, a new autism program, and street outreach.
- Psychiatric residential treatment: This is a 30- to 60-day program for intensive treatment to “alleviate some of the pain children are experiencing,” explained Drummond. The facility has 72 beds, but the program tries to keep the population down to 50 due to Medicaid issues in Kansas. The census is about 33 during the summer and 58-60 during the winter. The facility also has a specially designed school – not a correctional or an alternative school, but a “therapeutic school,” said Drummond. Ninety percent of the funding for the psychiatric residential treatment facility comes from the state and Medicaid.
- Outpatient department: This program provides outpatient psychotherapy and outpatient psychiatry, medication management, telepsychiatry (for rural areas), and an intensive outpatient program for substance use disorders. “We are dedicated to helping as many kids as we can” with the outpatient program, said Siegmund. There is a sliding scale – people who can afford it pay more, while some pay as little as $2 a session, he said. Local grants and Medicaid also support the outpatient treatment program.
- Autism program: Begun last year, this program includes assessment and diagnostic services, as well as interventions. In general, children in the program range from as young as 15 months to 18 years. Early intervention, the sooner the better, is the goal, said Drummond. In some cases, the patients will be older: 21 to 22 years. “I think the developmental landmarks are changing,” he said. “Being 22 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an adult.” Because Kansas does not mandate that insurance companies pay for autism treatment, many of these programs are either funded by the state or self-pay by the parents, said Siegmund. Doesn’t the parity law mandate coverage for mental illness? “I’d love to interpret it that way, but I don’t think they see autism as a mental illness,” said Siegmund. “They see it as a neurodevelopmental illness.” Insurance will pay if there is a co-occurring disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, he said. “But if you give someone in Kansas a diagnosis of autism, you won’t get paid for that.” He added: “I don’t know many kids who don’t have co-occurring disorders.”
- The street outreach services (SOS) program is design for homeless youth. Kids TLC provides case management, helping the children find housing and medical services. There is a huge problem with sex trafficking of young people, said Drummond. Ever since NAFTA, which opened up trade between Mexico and the United States, interstate highways - I-70 from California to Philadelphia and I-35 from South Texas to Minnesota - have acted as conduits for moving young people from Mexico to the Northeast, he said. Outreach to this population is done via handouts at schools, concerts, and public functions. There is also a hotline for homeless youth to call. Funding for SOS comes from grants and donations.
Separate from juvenile justice system
Kids TLC sharply distinguishes itself from the juvenile justice system. “We believe the history of the criminal justice system is based on fear of pain and deprivation,” said Drummond. “The history of psychological or inpatient treatment for kids in this country has been more of a correctional model that’s heavy with coercion,” he said. Such programs are “counterproductive,” serving only to exacerbate problems “with kids who have complex trauma issues,” he said.
“To me, alternative schools in our country seem to imply kids who have had truancy issues, who have legal issues,” he said. He hopes this is changing: “The focus should not be on ‘what’s wrong with them’ but ‘what happened to them.’”
Kids TLC uses principles based on the Penn Resiliency Program designed by Martin Seligman, which focuses on teaching children regulation skills that are necessary for them to function well “without focusing on correcting things,” said Drummond. “We can teach about how to read literature, and how this can help understand your own behavior.”
Currently, Kids TLC is working on an initiative with about 17 other groups involving federal grants to put integrated health care into schools. “People do better when their relationship needs are met in the same time and the same place,” said Drummond. “We would like to put behavioral health consultants in schools where kids can feel safe.” For example, the children might see their primary care nurse with a behavioral health consultant within the school system.
“As an agency we realize that we can’t exist in isolation any more,” said Siegmund. “This is not an Olathe problem,” he said. In order to survive and be effective as a company, partnerships with other agencies are essential. “Just as you have to listen to clients, you have to listen to the community,” he said.
At one time, Kids TLC tried to meet all the needs of the community by itself. Now, it serves some of the needs, and relies on partners to serve others.