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Over the past few years Healing Magazine has featured several “Success Stories” about TRICARE-associated youth in the adolescent residential treatment programs offered on KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus in Orefield, Pennsylvania. For this article, Chris Sylvester of KidsPeace’s Customer Relations team shines a spotlight on the referral process itself. 

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One of the most often asked questions we get is, “How does a child get into your residential program?” Each time this question is posed, I experience the equivalent of a tiny little fist pump going off in my head. The response is much more than the X’s and O’s of the referral process; it’s ensuring we can meet the treatment needs of the youth, and the youth and their family are comfortable with what we offer for care and treatment.

For example, we recently received an inquiry for a TRICARE-funded youth through the “Request More Info” tab on the KidsPeace website. Over the course of any given week we receive dozens of such web-portal inquiries from parents, caregivers, and referring agencies, which then are directed to the Customer Relations team for follow-up. In this particular case, the web inquiry for the TRICARE-funded youth was submitted by his mother with a request for a phone call to discuss the clinically indicated need for residential treatment.

Prior to calling a parent who has submitted an inquiry, I will email them a “packet” of KidsPeace information, consisting of an overview of our residential programs and services, a list of current and background referral documentation needed by our Admissions team, and information pertaining to our onsite psychiatric hospital and TeenCentral.com. I also request the family let me know what day/time works best for them for a follow-up call – which sets the stage for an unrushed and uninterrupted conversation. Providing time and space for a parent to discuss the concerns and needs of their child is crucial in not only understanding the needs of the youth, but in gaining insight into familial dynamics as we make an initial determination if KidsPeace offers the residential program to best meet the needs of the youth and family. 

In my conversation with the mother of the TRICARE-funded youth, the next step was to assist in connecting her with our Admissions team, where an Admissions Specialist works to ensure all needed documentation has been received and available for review. Unless there is a clear reason to not accept the referral (such as acuity/behavior exceeds the scope of our care, specific treatment/educational needs fall outside of our services offered, or a medical condition requiring more intensive treatment than we can provide), nearly all TRICARE-funded youth referrals will be shared with our Clinical and Program leadership for further review.

“The first step is a thorough review of the packet, and we are able to accept most youth from the initial referral information,” says Paige Keeter, KidsPeace Senior Director of Applied Behavior Analysis and Recreation. “In some cases we may have some additional questions that we need to have answered, and we’ve found that holding a Zoom assessment with the individual is the best for our ’screening in’ process. We focus a lot on the coping skills they identify so that we can make sure we offer and reinforce the use of those coping skills from day one of treatment with us.  I make sure in the assessment that each youth knows who will be on their treatment team to support them.”

Brooke Palmer, Clinical Manager for TRICARE-funded youth, emphasizes the need to “talk to the youth (via phone or video) about who they are and what they have been working on in their treatment, regardless of whether they are in the hospital or at home.” Furthermore, does the youth “feel that coming to residential is an opportunity or a consequence? We discuss what they want to work on, and challenge them to identify their treatment needs. We also discuss their relationship with their family and their role in the family.”

The assessment process may also indicate a direct call with the parent is necessary to better understand the needs of the youth. These calls can have a significant impact beyond assisting with a determination to accept a youth into our program. Paige shared a recent story in which she spoke with a parent to discuss the referral of their child:  

“I spent about an hour listening to her story of her child’s struggles and behaviors, trying to get her child the community support she needed and then the ultimate hospitalization of her child with a  recommendation for residential.  At the conclusion of the phone call she shared that she didn’t realize how much she needed to talk through everything and was very thankful I had taken the time to listen to her story.  

“Phone calls with the parents of youth we are assessing provides the opportunity to validate their story and experience with their child and often how much they have needed to be the advocate for their children’s mental health needs before reaching KidsPeace.”

Once review of clinical documentation and youth/family assessments are complete, a determination is made as to whether we can meet the treatment needs of the youth and their family. Kate Lichtenwalner, Residential Admissions Specialist, explains the notification process if there is a decision to accept: “After informing the family of the decision we discuss the next steps in the admission process…as well as send them information with an overview of what a day in the house [the youth was accepted for] will look like.” Kate will explain to families what an ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) Agreement is, assisting families in completing and submitting necessary forms. She also works with the funding source to ensure authorization of services is in place.

In terms of this particular TRICARE-funded referred youth, questions on the part of the parent and youth remained. This is not an uncommon occurrence for Kate; once they know placement at KidsPeace is reality, often families will “drill down” to next-level questions. In this case, the parent had specific questions about our education program. Kate connected the parent with our Director of Education, who reached out to discuss the academic setting and answer questions.

Although he was some distance away, the TRICARE-funded youth in this example also wanted to see the campus. So Kate turned to Paul Iannacone, Customer Relations Liaison, with a request for a virtual tour of the Orchard Hills Campus. “The virtual tour provides a brief video overview of the residential program and includes house-specific photos, from bedrooms to lounge and recreation areas,” Paul says. “Families are looking to be reassured, and the virtual tour is one way to not only show the tremendous facilities we offer, but it also gives a chance to talk about the great people working at KidsPeace.” 

In the example we’ve been following, Paul noted that the virtual tour went very well, with the youth having the opportunity to see the campus and ask any and all questions. Within a week of the virtual tour, this youth was admitted into our residential program.

We strive to offer a referral process that is not so much interested in getting an answer overnight, but getting an answer that is “treatment-right.” The process of reviewing, assessing and ultimately determining to accept a youth into our residential program truly takes a team approach. Each player brings their own experience and expertise to the table with the goal of ensuring the youth and family are a good treatment fit. 

This treatment fit is a two-way street; not only are we making a decision to treat a youth, the family is also making a decision that KidsPeace is the best treatment fit for their child and themselves.

Chris Sylvester

Chris Sylvester

Chris Sylvester joined KidsPeace in 1992 as a direct care worker at the Graham Lake Campus in Ellsworth, Maine, advancing to take on a variety of roles and responsibilities. In 2014, Chris became National Customer Relations Liaison for KidsPeace covering the Northeast Territory, which includes all of New England and New York, to ensure customers are aware of the KidsPeace Continuum of Care and the treatment services offered for youth and families.