ANCHORAGE - The state is sending fewer children out of the state for mental health treatment than a year ago, an improvement health officials are crediting to increased aid to families and more mental health professionals in local hospitals.
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The state is paying treatment fees for about 300 Alaska children and teens in out-of-state residential psychiatric centers.
That's more than a 25 percent drop from this time last year, when the count was nearly 400, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
The state now has mental health professionals at North Star Hospital, Alaska Psychiatric Institute and Providence Alaska Medical Center linking families to community help, such as an in-home worker, said Brita Bishop, a state children's behavioral health specialist.
Bishop starts a new job July 9 as the state's Bring the Kids Home project's first full-time coordinator.
The program helps pay for residential care for children and for services that Medicaid won't pay for.
State officials have been trying to reduce the number of children treated Outside since 2004, when the issue began getting wide public attention.
Children who are sent away often feel isolated, health professionals say. And it's hard for them to readapt after spending months or years in treatment thousands of miles away.
Residential psychiatric treatment is intended to address severe depression, drinking or drug use combined with emotional disturbance and other destructive behaviors.
Private agencies also are trying to help keep kids in Alaska.
Anchorage Community Mental Health Services got a state grant to help families get ready for a child coming home from residential treatment.
Community Connections in Ketchikan started a group home on Prince of Wales Island. Southcentral Foundation, the health care arm of Cook Inlet Region Inc., has created a group home especially for Native children.
Some private groups are building new residential psychiatric treatment centers.
North Star opened a 60-bed center on DeBarr Road last summer. Southcentral Foundation is building a 44-bed cottage-like center in Eklutna and Family Centered Services of Alaska is opening a center in Fairbanks.