A Personal Look at Mental Health Screenings for Foster Youth

A Personal Look at Mental Health Screenings for Foster Youth by ChronicleofSocialChange

Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) Services are guaranteed for Medicaid-eligible children, and have for decades been a staple of California’s foster system’s mental health treatments.

But a drastic shift in the way EPSDT funding is disbursed has advocates for foster youths concerned about service shortages in some of the state’s 58 counties. To read our previous article concerning the new policies, please click here.

On the other side of the policies, though, is the story of Kevin Clark; a 24-year-old Philosophy major at the University of San Francisco. He started having mandated mental health screenings when he was just six years old due to his anger issues, which he exhibited at his local elementary school after being placed in the system.

Since Clark was so young when he first started having these screenings, he has a hard time remembering the whole process.

“I don’t remember much about the semantics of it,” he said. “However when I spoke with her [his foster mother] she told me that they required her to get mental health screenings because of the actions that were happening at school, that I was doing at school, and what not.” He also believes these screenings were free due to the fact that he was not listed under his foster mother’s health insurance.

According to Clark, the mandated therapy hindered more than it helped. The one-on-one counseling was intimidating. So if he could have changed anything about the system it would have included more group counseling. At age 13, he was not receptive to discussing his issues with an “intimidating” therapist.

“I don’t necessarily attribute my decline of anger issues to the therapy,” he said. “I’d say that if anything that therapy was just kind of like a crutch; not even a crutch, just kind of something that I had to do. I wasn’t really responsive to the therapy from what I remember, until I got a little bit older. At 13 years old, I think the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my issues with somebody.”

The doctors decided to try a new treatment: neurofeedback (NFB). It is a type of therapy that is supposed to teach the individual self-control and self-regulation.

“They hooked me up to this wave machine, and they told me to get my brain waves to a certain – within a certain threshold, and I remember doing that like six or seven times,” he recalled. “And if I got to a certain threshold they would reward me for different things like, prizes.”

After limited results, Clark’s foster mom decided that the best solution for her foster son was to send him to a boarding school in Sonoma for two and a half years. This move, he says, was what truly taught him how to control his anger and insecurities.

“I think [going to boarding school] contributed a lot to learning how to function in society or within any social situation in general,” he said.

It is worth noting that although Clark grew up in Los Angeles County, which last year received 46 percent of EPSDT funds in the state, he found better treatment elsewhere. So while much of the advocacy angst over realignment is focused on how much money goes  to each county,  there should also be some discussion on what money goes towards specific treatments.

“I had a lot of insecurity when…I had to take therapy,” Clark said. “It was one on one counseling basically. So maybe something with a more communal effort or like a communal feel to it would feel a little less intimidating.”

Teddy Lederer is a journalism intern with Fostering Media Connections. 

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