Making Children’s Mental Health Matter
It was a trip plagued from the start and seemed to be headed for disaster. Several years ago, with no one at the state Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Services available, Earl Young of the state Department of Health traveled to Tennessee to assist with transporting a 16-year-old Hawaii youth in a program there to a new program in Utah. With a lack of clear communication on the discharge, running behind schedule and narrowly missing a flight, and with an agitated teenager on a flight that seemed to never come to an end, they landed in snowy Salt Lake City with no inkling where the new program was.
With these unforeseen circumstances in place, it was surprising that everything all worked out. “In the end, our youth was successfully placed in a community residential treatment program, and I survived my first drive in the snow,” said Young, a mental health supervisor in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division (CAMHD), Central Oahu Family Guidance Center. A few months later, the youth was discharged and returned to Hawaii.
CARE AND COMPASSION
It is experiences like this — misadventures and all — that Young embraces with a positive attitude and makes him more heartened to take on the challenges that come with his job as one of numerous individuals helping to provide services for children with various mental health problems.
For more than 30 years, Young’s career has been about helping people. After a stint as a social service assistant in the state Department of Human Services, he worked for 17 years as a social worker in the state Department of Health’s Adult Mental Health Division. “It was a tremendous learning opportunity with tremendous rewards. I saw individuals with severe and persistent mental illness able to pursue living and employment opportunities while overcoming the negative stigma that is often associated with those suffering from mental illness.”
In his current position as mental health supervisor in the state Department of Health’s CAMHD, where he has been since 2005, Young clinically and administratively oversees a team of mental health care coordinators responsible for providing case management services to children and youth ages 3-20 with complex emotional and behavioral problems. The mental health issues are wide ranging for the several hundreds of children and adolescents who go through the programs. Issues include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, substance abuse, severe bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. They see runaways, youth involved in sex trafficking, children who have been physically or sexually abused or experienced other significant trauma, and young males charged with sex crimes. Clinical support is provided by the Family Guidance Centers, and treatment is provided through various service providers.
Despite some of the sad and disturbing cases that he and his staff may see, Young finds his work gratifying. He is truly a supporter and advocate for “Every Child’s Mental Health Matters,” the CAMHD motto. “When you can see a child or adolescent successfully complete treatment to the point that their lives almost seem normal, it is extremely rewarding,” said Young. “To see young people successfully transition from young adulthood into adulthood and attend college or pursue a career brings much joy to what we do. To see families plagued with pain, trauma and dysfunction able to successfully become a normal functioning family unit makes what we do more worthwhile.”
COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP AND TEAMWORK
Young is certainly a leader, too, yet he acknowledges that his work could not be done without his hardworking staff. Though as supervisor he seldom works directly with the child, he is always supportive of his staff in their recommendations for level of care. Working together as a team, they figure out the best approach to deal with each case and to provide the best service. “I work in an amazing office with staff that genuinely care about the children and families whom we serve,” said Young. “Having staff that see the value and share in the vision of providing the best mental health service delivery to our families is invaluable.”
And the feeling is mutual. Beverly Okabe, one of four mental health care coordinators Young supervises, said, “One of Earl’s greatest strengths is his empathetic nature. He has led us all by example in his hard work ethic and compassion for the people we provide services to.” Speaking on behalf of her fellow mental health coordinators, Okabe continued, “Earl is definitely a people person and we all appreciate him. He is fun, energetic, caring and able to collaborate well with all the agencies we contract with.”
Young handles all incoming screening and request for services, and he and his staff brainstorm and problem solve to overcome barriers and obstacles, work collaboratively with other stakeholders such as the state Department of Education, Child Welfare Services and Family Court as well as private physicians and organizations that also provide patient care. They work with family members and other individuals involved and attend court and detention facility hearings. “Our goal is to work on finding positive resolutions and outcomes,” Young noted. “I believe our community, legislators and policymakers understand the need to expand the services needed to provide effective evidence-based treatment right here in Hawaii rather than sending our youth to mainland programs. We need greater support and education to families with youth who are in or receiving mental health services.”
Young’s leadership skills as a mental health supervisor are beneficial in his active involvement with HGEA. A longtime steward, chair of the Unit 13 Oahu Island Division and member of the Unit 13 negotiating team, Young feels these roles in turn help him to become a better supervisor in his job. “Being involved with our union has given me the opportunity to voice and advocate on behalf of Unit 13 members, similar to how we support and advocate on behalf of the children and families we serve. I would encourage all members to get involved with the array of opportunities that our union offers to serve and be engaged in,” he said. “An HGEA membership represents a commitment and appreciation for support and benefits that is second to none. Sticking together to fight and preserve what we have is important now more than ever.”
Young is grateful for all the opportunities he has been given in his career and with his union, church and community activities. It’s why he gives back in time and service.
“Educating, understanding and being able to exhibit care and compassion have been the most rewarding aspects of what I do. I have been fortunate to have been afforded opportunities to grow both individually and professionally,” said Young. “Having been able to work with both children and adolescents as well as adults have broadened my respect for human dignity and the rights to maintain and have a quality of life that benefits not only a few but as many as possible.”