A new program will provide mental health supports to central Alberta youth. File photo

A new program will provide mental health supports to central Alberta youth. File photo

AHS aims to help Central Alberta youth with new mental health program

Alberta Health Services has created a new program to help central Alberta youth deal with mental health challenges.

Step Up Step Down is a five-bed, full-time live-in treatment program for youth aged 13-17, which includes the involvement of family/caregivers and the guidance of nurses, social workers and other therapists.

It will be hosted in an existing, standalone AHS facility.

It also includes an outpatient program, designed to offer mental health programming, treatment planning and goal development to youth and their family/caregivers.

The outpatient program will be primarily operated out of the Red Deer Children’s Addictions and Mental Health Clinic with some services available digitally.

Youth are referred to the program by their AHS mental health clinician. The program for both live-in and outpatient services runs for approximately 12 weeks. Close to 80 youth are expected to be helped annually.

Twenty-two additional staff have been hired to support this new program and it will receive $2.5 million annually through AHS Continuing Care Capacity Funding.

“Supporting the mental health of children and youth is investing in our province’s future, particularly during COVID-19 given the serious impact the pandemic has had on Albertans,” said Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in an AHS press release.

The program is designed to help youth who face significant mental health challenges, and those already receiving care from a clinician but need additional support. It also includes a high level of caregiver participation to help teens succeed at home, in school and in their communities.

“It’s about offering appropriate care to our teens. Some of our clients need a high level of hospital-based care, while others require a lower level of care through the help of community addiction and mental health clinics,” said Sherie Allen, senior operating officer for addiction and mental health in AHS’s Central zone.

“Step Up Step Down provides a level of care in between, and hopefully prevents youth from requiring a hospital stay.”

There are similar, non-profit programs across the province, including Wood’s Homes in Calgary, Lethbridge, Strathmore and Fort McMurray.

CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health, which operates in the Edmonton zone, offers community-based mental health programming with a family-centred focus.

“These new supports will provide opportunities for youth to trust, grow and gain confidence within their families, schools and communities,” said Alan Carter, a Red Deer-based member of AHS’ provincial advisory council on Addiction & Mental Health.

“As a parent and PAC member, I can say that we need to love our children the way they are, not the way we want them to be. This positive, unconditional support and family/caregiver-centred approach will reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues and promote healing and growth.”

Amy Cote, director of Red Deer Children & Youth in AHS Central zone, added that having key people in the young people’s lives involved in the program will play an important role in its success.

“We know the involvement of family or other caregivers is key to a youth’s wellness and success,” Cote said. “That’s why we require the participation of the significant people in a youth’s life, and increase supports to all so we can hopefully get these teens working with, and connected to, the people and services they need most.”

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