On any given day, there are more than four thousand children and adolescents in CPS custody in Harris County, and more than ten thousand statewide. More than half have emotional or mental difficulties, or substance abuse problems or learning disabilities, and in many cases, all of the above. Harris County Psychiatric Center Director Dr. Robert Guynn says Houston is no different from anywhere else in this category.
"Nationwide it's a growing problem among children and youth with depression, and increasingly we're recognizing that these mental illnesses which we see in adults really do have their beginning in childhood. And so early intervention and early identification are so critical to the future."
Dr. Guynn says many troubled adolescents in CPS custody can't be adopted or even placed in foster care because their problems are so severe, so the agency is referring a handful of those children between the ages of 13 and 18 to the County Psychiatric Center for treatment. Even though the center has only 20 beds for these young patients, Guynn says this approach is an important first step.
"Inpatient wise of course we're limited, but we're hoping that this will be a model for others to follow. In the out-patient however, we're planning within the next month or so to open a child-adolescent outpatient and partial-day hospital. We think this will be a very nice addition to the community, something that just isn't available now."
As many as 40 to 50 adolescents are on the waiting list for residential treatment every day in Harris County. Many are placed in mental hospitals or detention centers, at nearly twice the cost of residential inpatient care such as what they can get at the County Psychiatric Center. Administrator Dr. Lois Moore says there aren't many problems the center can't treat.
"Basically all behavioral disorders for children, for the most part, depression. Any diagnosis that the children have, we will be able to treat them."
At no cost to the childrens' families. Moore says CPS will pay the bill.
"We will have a relationship with CPS, Children's Protective Services. They will actually help us screen the kids that they have in their custody to be housed here."
Dr. Moore says the new Residential Treatment Center will start accepting adolescent patients early next month. There's more information about the work of the Harris County Psychiatric Center on the website kuhf.org.