In FY18, H.A.S. served 629 youth and young adults age 7 to 24. Of those we served, only 9% of participants had private health insurance; 91% had no coverage or relied on some form of government assistance. H.A.S. is proud to provide accessible, affordable care to Chicago area youth in need of culturally competent behavioral health services.
Healthcare Alternative Systems (H.A.S.) has been working with youth for over 20 years providing services and programs that focus on substance use treatment and mental health counseling. H.A.S. takes a youth-based trauma-informed approach to mental health services and works with at-risk youth, forming collaborations with schools and other partners in the community. As a result of funding and support from numerous grants, we have been able to train different staff on evidence-based models that are youth-specific, such as SPARCS, Seven Challenges, and the ACRA Model. H.A.S. has also partnered with other entities to provide flexibility in where and how we provide services to youth.
The work we do with youth is both clinical and non-clinical–building rapport and trust between the individual and the clinician is key to a participant’s success. Engaging youth is much more difficult than engaging adults, which is why non-clinical methods of engagement are so important. These include simple conversations, activities, and interaction with peers.
Despite all the work H.A.S. is doing, there is still more work to be done. We hope to expand the youth program, build capacity, open additional locations where services are provided, and diversify our referral partners so we can attract and reach more youth. With additional funding through numerous potential grants and contributions, we’ll be able to examine best practices, use incentives, focus on behavioral interventions, and use outreach and marketing to increase attendance and engagement. Our goal is to work with 30-40 unduplicated youth each month–a lofty, yet attainable goal.
Trinidad (Trini) Morin, a counselor at the Broadview location, works with youth on a daily basis. Not only does she work directly with adolescents, but she also has experience working closely with mothers and children who have suffered from domestic violence. Among the many approaches she takes to counseling these populations are skill work, building coping skills, managing stress, and emotional regulation.
But sometimes, youth aren’t ready to dive right into the clinical aspects of treatment, so Trini uses non-clinical methods to build rapport and trust: art and play therapy, card games, and simply having fun and getting comfortable with one another during the sessions. Trini acknowledges the challenges of working with youth who are enrolled in substance use treatment: “Those participating in substance use treatment don’t necessarily want to be there—most of the time it’s court mandated and they wonder ‘Why do I have to be here?’ It’s tougher to deal with those participants but I don’t force therapy on them right away; I try and make them feel comfortable and safe.”
An interesting aspect of the non-clinical work that Trini does is that when youth are distracted, for example talking about their daily routines or participating in art activities, they tend to divulge more and more therapeutic treatment naturally and organically begins.
Trini also implements less traditional approaches to therapy with youth. In addition to harm reduction, group therapy, and individual therapy, she tries to keep participants engaged by finding interesting and compelling videos, using their own interests as a conduit to therapy, and providing them with a lot of resources that extend beyond pamphlets and one-on-one talks.
“I want to be a trusted mentor to these kids,” she says. Trini herself went through difficult times in her adolescence; she was exposed to gang activity and witnessed certain things in her childhood that give her the lived experience to really connect with the youth she works with. “They trust me because I’ve been through it,” she says. “We see eye-to-eye. That level of connection is critical in counseling.”
For Trini, kids are her favorite population to work with. In many ways they are more challenging than adults, they don’t make the best decisions, but therapy gives them a chance to see their mistakes and change the course of their lives. “Kids need to feel wanted and cared for and each one should have somebody they can trust and talk to. I’m proud when I can fill that role for them.”