Duke Psychiatry Program Expands Mental Health Support for Foster Children

By Mary-Russell Roberson

Children in North Carolina's foster care system often end up sleeping in emergency departments or county Department of Social Services (DSS) offices because of the scarcity of foster homes and residential treatment facilities. 

The situation results from a combination of factors: More children in the foster care system. Fewer foster families. Rising rates of mental illness among children and adolescents. Not enough child psychiatrists. Too few mental health treatment facilities. An overburdened workforce. 

In response to this perfect storm of challenges, the Duke School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences is taking action to address the mental health crisis and help foster children build support and resilience for finding a new home. 

“It’s heartbreaking when you have kids that need a permanent home and you’re not able to provide that because the placements are prohibited by mental health issues that can’t seem to be resolved,” said Hal Wilson, program administrator at Wilkes County DSS.  

Wilkes County, like many other counties, struggles to find shelter for children in their care. “The need is great and it’s not lessening,” Wilson said. “It’s getting worse.”  

That’s why he is grateful for a pilot program led by Duke faculty members Courtney McMickens, MD, MPH, MHS, and Alexis French, PhD, both assistant professors of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. 

McMickens and French attend weekly meetings with Wilkes County staff to discuss children with complex mental health needs, with the goal of helping staff optimize treatment and identify appropriate long-term placement. 

Visit the School of Medicine's Magnify website to read the full story about this program and other initiatives to support foster children, their families, and the foster care system in North Carolina.

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