Free Mental Healthcare Available for Pontiac Kids Through CNS and Ascend Foundation Partnership
(Natalie Broda, May 9, 2022)
Pontiac, MI – Over 150 kids in Pontiac will now have access to free mental health services through a new partnership between the Clarence E. Phillips Ascend Foundation and CNS Healthcare.
It’s a collaboration that offers junior and high school aged students, and their families, the opportunity to receive wrap-around mental health services at no cost, with or without insurance from the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic.
Through the pandemic, CNS has seen its requests for services increase from an average of 150 calls a month to between 350 and 400 calls a month in 2022. That increase directly reflects what Kaino Phillips, founder and CEO of the Ascend Foundation, said he’s seen in his Ascend Youth Coalition kids over the past several years.
The coalition, which offers mentoring services and academic assistance, currently consists of 156 Pontiac children from seventh grade to seniors in high school. The kids are encouraged to engage in peer-to-peer discussions about issues that impact their lives. Last year, an ongoing conversation about substance abuse in teenagers transformed into a call to action from the group, according to Phillips.
“For years our kids have been talking about substance use, they’ve been advocating for healthy lifestyles in their peers and opening up about the real issues. Through that, we found we were missing a step. A lot of these kids are using substances to try and escape their reality, and some of these kids, they’re living through real hardships in their own households and it takes a mental toll. We had to find a viable vehicle to work on these mental health disparities, and that’s where CNS came in,” Phillips said.
At the time, Phillips was a board member for the mental health organization. After a brief conversation with Michael Garrett, president and CEO of CNS, Phillips stepped down from his position in order to create the new bridge for kids in the coalition to use their services for free. It’s a two-year partnership currently with plans to extend the program should it prove successful, according to Garrett. The mental health nonprofit currently operates in 27 schools throughout Wayne and Oakland County, providing psychologists and licensed social workers among its other programs.
“We are so glad to be able to offer this,” Garrett said. “We’re all familiar with what happened at Oxford High School, and how that showed us that kids need resources, they need to be heard, and treated when issues arise. This program will help to erase the stigma around mental health by having a trusted community partner available where people don’t need to feel ashamed, or embarrassed, for seeking assistance.”
As a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, CNS receives federal funding which allows the nonprofit to offer services at little to no cost for those who are not insured or underinsured. No insurance will be required for the kids and families who access this program.
Another benefit according to Phillips is the ability for the foundation to now provide extra support once a child is receiving mental health services. The program will allow the foundation to work directly with CNS to monitor a child’s mental state, without being bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
“Now, we can get a full grasp of a child’s problem, instead of only relying on what they share with the mentors,” Phillips said. “Once they’ve entered into professional services, we will be here to wrap our arms around them like usual. It gives the kids an extra, safe space to work through whatever is going on.”
As the partnership evolved, parents and guardians were also added to the program’s roster to access the free services. Phillips stated that in many cases, working with just the child in a home won’t help solve the whole issue – It’s the parents who also need support.
At the end of last year, the youth coalition teamed up with Oakland University to produce a series of mental health PSA videos. Coco Moulder, a longtime Pontiac school teacher and co-convener for the early childhood education programs under the Oakland University/Pontiac Initiative, helped the kids to create those videos.
“Back in 2016, we made a shift to look at what was happening in the community at large. We looked at the research about adverse childhood experiences and found that if we could build resilience in this community, we could get the general public to understand that childhood trauma affects the entire city,” Moulder said. “I’m a psychologist and I can tell you that young people want to have these conversations, they want to do the work, we as adults just need to figure out how to approach it. If we can, that’s a win-win situation.”
The program kicked off in November and is now gaining steam as more and more families seek the free services through the coalition. Phillips said he can already feel the change in the community.
“It feels so much better, for myself and the parents, to know that I can pick up the phone right now and have access to anything and everything our kids need for their mental health. We aren’t kicking them down the queue, or knocking them from agency to agency,” Phillips said. “This is quick, immediate help, which is so important. Time is too often a barrier for those who need these kinds of services.”
The Ascend Foundation and CNS are currently in talks about expanding the program to elementary school students.
For more information, visit theascendfoundation.org/truth-youth-coalition.