Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes
On Sunday morning, hundreds of shoes lined three-quarters of the curb around the Vernon County Courthouse. Clockwise, they went from Walnut and Main, south along Main, then east along Cherry and north on Cedar to the corner of Walnut and Cedar.
This was a partnership of Healthy Nevada’s Mental Health Committee, the Vernon County Youth Task Force and Nevada’s LifeWalk Church.
Dr. Tricia Bridgewater, chair of both the youth task force and mental health committee explained the project at Thursday’s meeting of the Healthy Nevada Mental Health Committee.
Said Bridgewater, “This is going to be an awesome way to visualize ACEs, resiliency and how we can become a community that cares, that walks in the shoes of other people, especially of those who had a really rough childhood.”
A 1997 landmark study proved a link between adverse childhood experiences and problems in adulthood ranging from increased substance use and abuse to higher rates of crime, mental problems, as well as increased rates of high-risk sexual behaviors, depression and suicide.
Simply put, it has been proven that those with higher ACE scores have a far higher risk of a rough adulthood and shorter lifespan.
These childhood experiences include growing up with a parent who is alcoholic, uses drugs, suffers from depression, lost a parent to divorce or other causes; endured chronic humiliation, emotional neglect, or sexual/physical abuse.
Said Bridgewater, “But it only takes one person to make a difference,” she said. “When an adult really listens to a child and lets the child talk and process all that’s going on around them, without being judgmental, that changes everything.”
She went on to say this helps the child by promoting resiliency, “which is our ability to bounce back and continue on.”
At the March meeting of the Mental Health Committee, Rebekah Oehring with the Pathways office in Nevada pointed out how resiliency is different from sympathy or empathy. She said one helpful way to appreciate and explain resiliency is through the metaphor of shoes.
Said Oehring, “If our shoes are supportive, fit well, and have a good sole and heel, we tend to feel good, more confident and ready to take on any task needed and it’s much the same with childhood and our home life.”
Asked “Where have your shoes been?” participants in Sunday’s shoe event were provided with an information sheet which said, “we want to consider the shoes that others have walked in, what others have experienced during their life’s journey … and help our community thrive.”
As part of this event, a drone flew over the courthouse and made a video of the ring of shoes. Plans call for snippets of this video to be incorporated into a video explaining ACEs as well as walking in the shoes of other people and simple ways to promote resiliency in children and adults.
Sunday’s event was organized through the efforts of several including Bridgewater, Fisher, Kelly Ast, program director of Healthy Nevada and local optometrist, Dr. Jeremy Fast.
Thursday’s meeting of the Mental Health Committee also received an update on Crisis Intervention Team training and the Mental Health Court.
The last word in the acronym CIT is “team” and it refers to a broad collaboration of law enforcement, mental health, treatment centers and emergency medicine to train and support law enforcement, probation/parole and others to respond effectively to individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis.
In January, local CIT training had 26 participants from law enforcement departments in Lamar, Nevada, El Dorado Springs, Rich Hill, Butler along with Bates and Vernon counties as well from area offices of probation and parole, Pathways and Moss House received CIT training.
The local CIT council is co-chaired by Nevada Police Chief, Casey Crain and Amanda Fisher, director of in-home services with On My Own, Inc. of Nevada.
Noting she sees the benefits already, Fisher announced the local coordinating council has adopted a new name — Four Rivers CIT Coordinating Council — “to better represent our geographical area.”
That expanded council plans to continue holding, at least, one training per year for area agencies.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first treatment court program in Missouri. David Heumader, courts administrator, provided the mental health committee with an update on Vernon County’s Mental Health Court.
Heumader explained how Mental Health Court is an alternative sentencing program which brings together criminal justice workers and health care providers in order to reduce criminal offenses among non-violent offenders who have an appropriate diagnosis by providing them with mental health and substance abuse treatment.
“The Mental Health Court is a treatment court, like the DWI [driving while intoxicated] and Drug Courts, though in terms of the number of participants, it’s by far the smallest,” said Heumader.
Since the program began, 29 people have been admitted while at present, five are enrolled with its next graduate likely to be in June.
Just as it is not a crime to have a physical illness so the courts administrator said having this court helps ensure we do not criminalize mental illness but instead give people the treatment they need.
“Something we’re pretty proud about is that among all of our graduates of the Mental Health Court, not one has got in any significant trouble with the law again,” added Heumader.
He explained how the program pays a CIT trained off-duty officer to make home visits and file regular reports on how the person is doing in his or her residence.
Since the State of Missouri does not yet formally recognize mental health courts as a treatment court, “we don’t get any funding at all from the state for our court,” said Heumader.
Instead, a significant amount of funding comes through a local United Way grant.
He said the 2017-2018 state budget made a 27 percent cut in the 28th Judicial Circuit’s budget for adult drug recovery court; this equates to $40,000. As a result, cuts were made in the number of admissions and funds for transitional housing.
The courts administrator noted how most who are sentenced to state prison, eventually, are released. He said the rate of recidivism among those released from state prison is far higher than among those who successfully complete treatment court.
“On average, it costs us $3,100 a year to have someone in treatment court while it costs $22,000 to $24,000 a year to house someone in state prison,” said Heumader. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out which saves money and makes more sense.”