Helping Children in Crisis

When many hear the word “crisis”, the immediate thought may be a person or situation that is of high intensity and can be dangerous to one’s self or others. This can be true for many instances, however, there are a spectrum of crises that occur on a daily basis for all, especially children.  

The Statistics

According to a November 2018 WebMd article, Sharp Rise Seen in Kids’ Mental Health ER Visits, researchers reported between 2012 and 2016 that overall admissions to the emergency departments for children shot up 50 percent in the United States.  This statistic is not just for the youth that report they have a plan of intent to harm themselves or others. These can be the children who report vague suicidal ideas or tendencies when either frustrated over a school test, have an argument with their parent or peer, get rejected from peer groups, etc.

teenage girl in crisis
teenage boy in crisis

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, reports that 1 out of 5 youth ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness.  With this statistic, there could be an underlying mental illness that is under-reported, or a child simply could be having a bad day by an isolated incident.  

The New Jersey Children’s System of Care, CSOC, developed a children’s outreach crisis program called Mobile Response and Stabilization Services. This is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week program where families contact PerformCare, the mental behavioral health hub for the state. A licensed clinician triages the phone call to determine if the youth has an immediate crisis or may need a higher level of care.  The crisis can be anything the family defines as a crisis at that point in time, such as a youth refusing to attend school in the morning, withdrawing from activities, or having anxiety about a school test.

Sad boy looking out window
Anxious girl covering her face

How to Get Help

If you do have a youth in imminent danger, it is highly advised to dial 9-1-1. However, sometimes a family needs guidance on how to handle the crisis at hand rather than going to the emergency room. This is where the Mobile Response Team is most appropriate and will provide de-escalation as well as referrals to the best therapeutic services available to meet the family’s needs. It will also be determined if there are factors for an underlying mental illness that need to be addressed on a longer term than the 8 weeks Mobile Response services are open.  

Here are some warning signs if you feel that your child may be in crisis:

  • Often feels anxious or worried
  • Has very frequent tantrums or is intensely irritable much of the time
  • Has frequent stomachaches or headaches with no physical explanation
  • Is in constant motion and can’t sit quietly for any length of time
  • Has trouble sleeping, including frequent nightmares
  • Loses interest in things he or she used to enjoy
  • Avoids spending time with friends
  • Has trouble doing well in school or grades decline
  • Has low or no energy

Mobile Response Services

In 2018, Mobile Response of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties, served over 2,600 youth and families. Referrals come from school districts, police departments, DCP&P, pediatricians, community-based services, the court systems, etc.  It is important to recognize and not ignore the signs to better address your child’s needs. Even though they may not use their words wisely, their actions will speak volumes. Please contact PerformCare toll-free at 1-877-652-7624 if your child is experiencing a crisis. For more information on PerformCare, please visit www.performcarenj.org.

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