In 2012, Telecare began its collaboration with the mental health courts of Orange County when we assumed operation of the “Whatever it Takes” (WIT) program. WIT's program design reflects the needs, values, and resources of the local area and is a great example of how flexible this approach can be.
WIT is a 4-phase, voluntary program where members are on conditional release from prison and required to be sober to transition up to a new phase and graduate.
Targeted Toward Members in Custody
"Members are assessed in court, while still in custody, by two clinicians that work for Health Care Agency of Orange County," said Susan Hull, administrator of WIT.
“To enter the program, there has to be some history shown that they have struggled with a mental illness for quite a bit of time,” said Susan. “It has to be something that's more chronic and persistent. If for some reason somebody happens to have more substance abuse only, those assessors have the capability to refer to other courts that might be more appropriate.”
- 100-member program
- Length of stay is typically 18-24 months, with members transitioning to a Full-Service Partnership (FSP) program upon graduation
- Two probation officers from Orange County Collaborative Court are assigned to WIT to help deliver services in line with judicial process
- Team meetings occur weekly with WIT’s entire clinical staff, a public defender, probation officers, and two representatives from Health Care Agency in Orange County
- Numerous group therapy sessions occur daily that are collaborative and intensive
- After graduation, members are linked to outpatient clinics with less high level structure
As part of their contract, the probation department designated four phases within the program. Within those phases there are certain requirements members have to meet in order to phase up to the next level. Upon a member's graduation, misdemeanors are wiped clean off their record and felonies are downgraded.
"The way it's designed is that in the beginning, initial phases, it is more hands on," said Susan. "We're providing everything for them as most of them don't have any resources when they come out of jail.
"As they advance along into the later phases, the goal is to slowly wean themselves off of our support so that they are not needing to be here as frequently. We assist them with employment or obtaining social security benefits or some sort of way to support themselves. By the time that they are graduated, we're no longer paying for their housing, they have some meaningful role in the community, and we've taught them various coping skills and social skills so that they can lead a productive life in the community."
Partnering Effectively with Probation
To be effective in serving members, the WIT program has found that it's critically important to work well with the probation team. One extremely effective strategy they've used is a simple weekly meeting.
Susan said the WIT team sets aside an hour and a half every week for the collaborative meetings between clinical and judicial staff. During these meetings, they discuss members that are on the court calendar for the following week to gain a better understanding of each other's perspectives which helps them work toward shared goals.
Her advice: “Just be mindful that this is going to be a challenge and try to be respectful of one another, even though you may not agree,” said Susan. “Always treat partners and the probation team the way you would hope to be treated. The hope is that over time we can both learn from each other.”
Maintaining Staff Resiliency
“Provide as much training and support to your staff as possible, because it’s a very high demand, high burnout job,” said Susan. "It's important to focus on this because we've found that stable staff/client connections can be a grounding element in a person's recovery process."
Susan offers monthly team building activities with staff and the team meets every morning to talk about any crisis issues that come up in the night.
Her advice: “Give a lot of positive feedback to your staff, recognize them, and always being aware of the little things they do. Sometimes, it’s just recognizing and telling them they did a good job,” said Susan. “It’s important to put them at the forefront, because they are leading the team.”