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Making a difference in a child or adolescent’s life is not always easy, but the staff of the Mental Health Forensic Services Division at The Harris Center strives to do just that every day. Through a variety of programs, children and adolescents who are involved in the juvenile justice system in Harris County receive treatment and services that address some of the root causes that led them there in the first place.
The most intensive of these programs is the Juvenile Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI) Program, which is commonly referred to as TCOOMMI Jr. This program has served juvenile offenders ages 10-17 who are on probation or parole in Harris County in their schools and homes since 2001 through a collaboration between The Harris Center, the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD).
According to Betty F. Adams LMSW, LMFT, Assistant Deputy Director for Mental Health Forensic Services at The Harris Center, the main goal of TCOOMMI Jr. is to help “control symptoms of mental illness through medication and other therapies, provide support and coordination, provide intensive supervision, develop a network of agency and community resources, reduce recidivism and increase awareness through consumer and family education.”
Licensed mental health professionals from The Harris Center partner with probation and parole officers from the HCJPD and the TJJD to provide psychiatric evaluations, diagnosis of mental health conditions, medication management, skills training, psychotherapy, intensive case management and resource referral and linkage. Referrals for this program come from the HCJPD and the TJJD, and the length of time a youth may participate is based on clinical necessity. Along with the HCJPD and the TJJD, the TCOOMMI Jr. clinical staff work toward ensuring that the child or adolescent is “stabilized, does not re-offend and learns appropriate coping and decision making skills to become a productive and law abiding citizen,” said Adams.
“They are providing these kids with a set of skills to use to help them reduce those behaviors that got them into the system,” said Adams.
Once the individual has completed services through TCOOMMI Jr., they may be referred to one of the other child and adolescent programs at The Harris Center to continue their treatment and, most importantly, changing their life for the better.
“These youth deserve the chance to lead healthy, productive lives. TCOOMMI Jr. is here to give them the tools they need to make that goal a reality,” said Adams.
When D. Danielle Hale, Ph.D., arrived as a new employee at The Harris Center, her first assignment was facilitating a group with male inmates at The Harris County Jail that was part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Program. Nine years later, Dr. Hale’s list of responsibilities as the now-Lead Psychologist for the Adult Services Program of The Harris Center’s Mental Health Forensic Services Division has grown to include overseeing additional programs in the Jail and the supervision of a dozen employees. However, she continues to facilitate the same group she was first assigned in 2007. According to Dr. Hale, “That’s where my joy is, where my passion is.”
The CBT Program focuses on helping those who participate learn how to better handle everyday situations and choices, something many of these inmates may not get the chance to do otherwise. Housed together in one unit within the Jail, about twenty men are part of the CBT Program at any given time. They are referred to the program by The Harris Center staff providing mental health services in the Jail, Jail staff or they may self-refer. Participants may remain in the program for up to five months while in the Jail, and the ages of those in the program have ranged from 18 to over 60.
It is early morning, and stepping out of the Metro bus is Sh’Clara Smith. She makes her way to the front doors of The Harris Center’s Gessner Day Program where she signs in and greets her friends ready to take on the day. As she sits, other participants gather around and they begin sharing what they did over the weekend.
Anyone who has lived in Houston for a little over a week has come across people who speak a language other than English. As one of the most diverse cities of the world, Houston is home to people from all the continents, and a substantial portion of them are not fluent in English. These individuals make up a significant amount of Harris Center clientele.
Harris County now has a new resource to help keep people with mental illness out of the Harris County Jail. The new Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center provides law enforcement with a community-based alternative for persons with mental illness who have been picked up for low-level, non-violent offenses such as trespass. The Diversion Center celebrated its ribbon-cutting and dedication October 1, 2018 at 9 a.m.
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The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD strives to provide high quality, efficient, and cost effective services so that persons with mental disabilities may live with dignity as fully functioning, participating, and contributing members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay based on a sliding scale rate schedule.
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