‘What About the Kids?’

Tuesday December 20, 2022

The CATCH team: From left, Elizabeth Kopacz, Yagelis Pichardo, Carolyn Gayler-Romero, Kael Brooks and Emily Walzak

REGIONAL – In its 50th year of helping North Shore adults beat addiction, the Link House, Inc. has launched a new program, the first in this region, to help children and teens cope with mental health issues.
Appropriately named CATCH for Children And Teen Center for Help, the new program opened its doors in Amesbury’s Boston North Technology Park three weeks ago. It has developed a partnership initially with the Amesbury schools, but plans to offer its services, sending clinicians to provide one-on-one and group therapy sessions, in other area schools.
Parents are also bringing their children and teens to the new facility for help with anxiety, depression, gender dysphoria, trauma, substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders.
“The family focused program will empower children and teens to handle the daily challenges of their lives, while equipping the families with tools and insights to help children and teens thrive,” the new web site states.
CATCH’s multi-disciplinary team includes licensed social workers, nurse practitioners, psychologists and executives with experience in behavioral health.
“People are already knocking on the doors,” said director Carolyn Gayler-Romero, who was recruited to run the new program by Dr. Gary Gastman, Link House executive director, and Christine Turner, senior director of Link House services.
“We didn’t have to put up a poster,” Romero said. She expects the number of teens and children, ages five to 18, who come for help “will snowball.”
Turner said Link House’s Center for Behavioral Health and Addiction Treatment Services, located across the parking lot, grew to 1,000 patients in four years. She predicts CATCH will see the same level of demand.
“The need was so urgent, we could not sit idly by. People kept asking ‘why not the kids?’” Turner said. “We took it on.”
Kael Brooks, the CATCH clinical supervisor, spent the last several years identifying the scope of the challenge by surveying parents and teens about their mental health. The results for the North Shore showed that 21 percent of those surveyed suffered from depression, while 11 percent reported having considered or attempted suicide.
The area wait list for parents and grandparents to get their children and teens the mental health treatment they need runs 16 to 18 months in facilities that are not nearby, Brooks said.
The CATCH clinicians were working last week with students at Amesbury Innovation High School, where Gayler-Romero said there are many students who need help. CATCH has also been invited into the Amesbury and Cashman elementary schools, the middle school and Amesbury High School.
“This is just the beginning,” Brooks said.
CATCH is funded by private and MassHealth insurance payments, which Gastman described as “razor thin.” The schools do not pay for the program.
The John Ashford Link House was founded in 1972 by a group of North Shore residents to help men at a time when many Vietnam veterans were coming home with drug and alcohol issues. Link House was only the fourth licensed residential treatment program in the state.
This year, at age 50, Gastman predicted, “will be a time of change, growth, and celebration as we look back at our 50 years and share our exciting plans for the future.”
Link House, Inc., offers residential treatment for adults in 125 beds at the Elms and Progress houses in Amesbury, the Women’s Independent Sober Housing (WISH) in Newburyport, the Maris Center and Link House.
The goal of CATCH is to help young people with their mental issues before they become addicted to drugs and alcohol and need services for adults at Link House, Inc., Turner said.
To do that, CATCH requires substantial private support. “We need the people with checkbooks to come,” Turner said.
“America is richest country in the world,” Turner said. “We can do it.”
For more information, visit catchkidsnow.org.

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