Approximately 850 St. Louis County youth are in foster care. More than a quarter of them experience depression, anxiety or other serious emotional problems.

A major challenge to addressing these mental health issues has been that treatment would be provided in clinics or other unfamiliar settings, away from the foster parents who are trying to provide a home life and feeling of security.

That challenge began being rectified in 2012, when the State of Minnesota initiated a program called Intensive Treatment in Foster Care. ITFC makes it possible for foster children to receive mental health services in their foster homes. Sessions include not only the foster child and counselor, but also the child’s foster parents and, often, biological parents and others.

Minnesota’s first ITFC program north of the Twin Cities began March 18, 2019 in Duluth, at Cambia Hills Mental Health program, part of The Hills Youth and Family Services.

“Children are often uncomfortable in clinical and institutional settings. Treating them in their homes—were they are most comfortable—is a huge plus.” said Jeff Bradt, CEO of Cambia Hills’ parent organization, The Hills Youth and Family Services. “I don’t know who thought of it, but it’s a brilliant idea. It’ll be a game changer for some of the children and families that are struggling now. ”

The “intensive” part of the ITFC name refers to the serious, thorough nature of the treatment that’s required. When foster children become agitated and occasionally violent, their foster parents often have to call 911 to protect the rest of the family. ITFC includes psychotherapy, psychoeducational services (examples include explaining diagnoses, common symptoms, explaining mental health treatment in general or the spectrum of services, discussing topics like social media usage, sleep hygiene, substance use and the brain, etc.), crisis assistance and more.

ITFC is also intensive in terms of how frequently a child is treated. Sessions are held at least three days a week equaling at least six hours each week.

“ITFC provides a lot of flexibility for everyone,” said Christine Squier M.A., LPCC, LADC, Cambia Hills’ Outpatient Clinical Supervisor. “Maybe it’s a morning session one day, when foster and biological parents are available, maybe it’s a noontime session another time with just the child and counselor, and so on. The frequency of the sessions helps speed up the healing and understanding process.”

Foster children often don’t stay with just one set of foster families. Mental health issues can result in a child needing to be placed in many homes, all for relatively short periods of time. Part of the State of Minnesota’s purpose in creating (and partially funding) ITFC is to reduce the high rate of children moving from placement to placement. By having foster parents involved in the sessions, they’re more likely to remain in the program as well.  Everyone’s goal is stability.

To be eligible to receive ITFC, a child must:

-be a recipient of the Minnesota Health Care Program;
-be 21 or younger;
-have a diagnostic assessment within the past 180 days that documents a mental illness;
-live in a licensed family foster home (where the license holder lives in the home, including licenses pre-adoptive and pre-kinship placements);
-need a level of care that demonstrates the need for intensive services without 24-hour medical monitoring.

To start, Cambia Hills is poised to assist four patients, each receiving at least six hours of attention per week from a licensed therapist.  Bradt said as needs increase, Cambia Hills will determine when to add capacity.

“We’re excited about the breakthroughs that have been seen in other states with ITFC,” said Bradt. “Foster care is an excellent program that always comes with challenges. Cambia Hills is pleased to be the first in our area provide ITFC to help remove one of those challenges.”

Cambia Hills is located at 4321 Allendale Avenue in Duluth. Its phone number is 218-728-7500.

Established in 1971 as Woodland Hills, The Hills (www.TheHIllsYFS.org) serves over 1,000 youth annually. For decades its programs have provided unwavering hope and opportunity for young people and their families through trauma repair and skill building that enhances educational achievement, social development and relational competence.  Programs include Woodland Hills Juvenile Justice Services, Cambia Hills Mental Health services, and Neighborhood Youth Services. Cambia Hills of East Bethel will open early 2020