Monmouth Cares reaches out to troubled youths

Agency builds community team to help avoid institutional care


Staff Writer

FARRAH MAFFAI staff The Commissioner of Human Services for New Jersey, James Davy, talks to Monmouth Cares Executive Director Kathy Collins as he tours the West Long Branch office on Monday. FARRAH MAFFAI staff The Commissioner of Human Services for New Jersey, James Davy, talks to Monmouth Cares Executive Director Kathy Collins as he tours the West Long Branch office on Monday. WEST LONG BRANCH — For Monmouth Cares, a nonprofit that helps children with behavioral problems and their families, the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is more than folk wisdom.

That saying is the guiding principle behind the private, nonprofit agency based in West Long Branch.

“When a family has a problem, sometimes they isolate themselves,” explained Karen Kircher, community information specialist in the agency’s resource department.

“When they come to Monmouth Cares, we create a team process that builds that village.”

Monmouth Cares is a care management agency that assists Monmouth County families with children ages 5 to 18 years old who have emotional behavioral disorders. The agency accepts families of any income, with or without health insurance, and children with any type of diagnosis.

The agency was established in 2001 as part of the New Jersey Division of Child Behavioral Health Services.

“Our ultimate goal is to keep children in the community,” Kathy Collins, executive director, said. We want to keep them in their homes.”

Monmouth Cares has a staff of 18 care managers who work with a caseload of 280 families at one time. Since its inception, the organization has assisted 350 families.

Instead of relying on hospitalization and residential treatment programs for children with behavioral disorders, Monmouth Cares uses community resources to build on the child’s strengths while keeping the child in his or her home and school.

“The old system [hospitalization and residential] fragments the family,” Kircher said.

During visits to the child’s home, the care manager, along with the child and family members, develops a plan and builds a team to meet the needs of the particular situation, according to Collins.

The team includes community members who know the child and the family and who are willing to make a commitment to do whatever it takes to help the child and family achieve a positive outcome, according to Monmouth Cares. Strategies aim at using resources in the community.

“Instead of sending a child to therapy, maybe the child can go to the garage down the street where [the child] is friends with [the mechanic] and is good at fixing cars,” Kircher explained.

The system concentrates on bringing out the individual strengths and talents of the child and using them in a positive way to help control behavioral disorders, according to Collins.

She said situations are often complex.

For example, she said, a family could be referred to the organization for help because the child has gotten kicked out of school because of bad behavior and the child may have a mother who abuses drugs and a father who is in jail.

“We get the most complicated and intense cases,” Collins said. “Parents may be willing to help their children, but they do not have the resources and support.”

She said the care manger might find out the child plays the violin, and violin lessons could be used as an alternative therapy.

The system uses a “wrap-around” process, wrapping the services from 12 different domain areas around the child and family. The areas include: education, employment, family and friends, financial, food and shelter, legal, physical health, psychological, safety, social, spiritual and transportation.

“You wrap the services around families and children to preserve the most community-based setting for a child,” Kircher said. “Kids who go into institutional settings do not fare as well in life.”

Long Branch is one of three Monmouth County communities with the highest demand for assistance from Monmouth Cares, according to Collins, who said she is currently working with the city to develop preventive programs that will preclude the need for assistance in the future.

Monmouth Cares has agreed to be a temporary sponsor for the new local organization known as the Long Branch Concordance, until it is able to stand on its own, Collins said.

The Concordance is a group that is working to develop a central network of resources where people in the community turn for assistance.

“If [the Concordance] can help the community with housing, maybe a family will then be able to afford housing and be helped. The children could benefit and they would not have to come to us,” Collins explained.

Monmouth Cares is just one component of a network of county organizations, known as the system of care, designed to assess each individual child and determine how complicated and intense the child’s disorder is, according to Collins, who said the child is then referred to a category within the system.

Monmouth Cares falls into the care management organization category.

Other categories include youth case management, local community providers and family support organization.

“The family has to want to work with us this way,” Collins said. “That is their right.”

Collins said the average family is with the system for 18 to 24 months.

“We don’t solve all the problems,” she said. “But they get to a point where they do not need an intense team working with them anymore.”

If a family plan fails, the organization will start the procedure over again.

“Plans fail, families don’t,” Collins said. “We have a ‘no reject, no eject’ policy.”

The organization works on a budget from Medicaid and the county Department of Human Services.

“Our long-term goal is to see families develop their own plans and team with the help of Monmouth Cares,” Collins said.