The Greene County Youth Medical and Mental Health Collaborative held its 3rd quarter meeting on Sept. 15 at the Greene County Public Safety Center. (Photo by Jack McGee)

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The finger-pointing stopped and the working together started. Professionals from across Greene County are collaborating to more effectively deliver mental health services and keep young people out of juvenile lockup.

In an effort to better tackle mental health issues among youth, organizations from around Greene County started meeting quarterly to network and identify solutions to mental health problems facing youth in the community.

The Greene County Youth Medical and Mental Health Collaborative formed in 2022, and is comprised of mental health professionals in education, government and health care who seek to more effectively deliver their services to the youth in Greene County. 

Julie Austin, the program manager for the Greene County Juvenile Office, said that bringing together the various organizations to communicate, identify problems and collectively find solutions was a “refreshing” alternative to the confusion and disconnect they experienced when dealing with crisis cases that crossed over between agencies.

“I think just everybody being in the room and just really building some empathy for one another, showed that there just was a real need for us to come together on a regular basis,” Austin told the Springfield Daily Citizen. “I think that it’s really, really hard work, it’s really, really exhausting work and it can feel really lonely, and it’s really easy to start pointing the finger. Being in a room and kind of being able to see that everybody’s struggling with the same problems helped, even if we didn’t have a solution.”

Austin said that the Collaborative’s first meeting in May 2022 was the first time all of those organizations had been in the same room to talk to each other rather than about each other about youth mental health problems they were all experiencing.

“There was just an inherent health to building that collaboration and that network,” she said.

Network between agencies impactful in effectively providing services

Since its first meeting nearly a year and a half ago, the collaborative has grown to over 50 members, representing a wide array of agencies in Greene County, though all with a focus on mental health. 

In addition to the Greene County Juvenile Office, which leads the collaborative, the network is composed of the Greene County Children’s Division, the Division of Youth Services, Mercy Hospital Springfield, CoxHealth, Jordan Valley Community Health Center, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Burrell Behavioral Health, Perimeter Healthcare, Lakeland Behavioral Health System, the Springfield Police Department, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, FosterAdopt Connect, the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Springfield Public Schools, Willard Public Schools and the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield.

Having the different organizations at the table benefits all of the stakeholders in youth mental health, by educating the public, more effectively employing staff and breaking familial patterns, in addition to making sure kids get the services they need to help them avoid or reduce their interactions with the juvenile justice system.

Often, kids will end up in the juvenile justice system as a default — perhaps because they’re too aggressive or there aren’t enough beds or staff at mental health treatment facilities. A better understanding of what services and capacity other agencies in Greene County offer could provide a more effective route to helping those juveniles.

Austin said that it makes a difference when you can call another provider that you have built trust with, and that it can be especially beneficial in more difficult cases.

Dayna Harbin, the system administrator for the mental health service line at CoxHealth, agreed, in that collaboration better helps CoxHealth staff members connect kids to the resources and services they need.

“Part of the reason that’s important is there’s not enough services in any of these agencies for all the people who have need,” Harbin told the Daily Citizen. “So every bed I fill means there’s a child in the [emergency department] still waiting for that bed. So that’s why it’s important it’s the right one. And the same thing for them — you don’t want kids in detention that don’t need to be there. So I think helping us, again, just make sure the youth gets the best service they need.”

Mitra Pedram, the director of Burrell’s Behavioral Crisis Center, said that the Collaborative has been “invaluable,” and that they are already starting to see some short-term gains on long-term goals through the coordination the collaborative enabled.

“We’ve really taken a lot of information that we’ve learned at these meetings in terms of ‘What are the gaps in our community, what are some of the pain points for some of the other agencies and systems that are involved with law enforcement and schools and juvenile office and how can we make sure that as we’re planning services for youth and for the future that we’re really trying to hit on as many of those that help with as many of those gaps as possible,’” Pedram said.

Subcommittees focus on different youth mental health needs

With such a large and diverse membership, subcommittees formed to tackle specialized topics. While led by members of the collaborative, the subcommittees can include professionals who don’t attend the collaborative meetings.

The three committees are still in the early stages of their formation, and are in the process of recruiting members of their own.

Greene County Juvenile Justice Center program manager Julie Austin. (Photo provided by Julie Austin)

The ProSocial/Early Intervention Subcommittee seeks to gauge the effectiveness of programs in Greene County and other communities to address barriers to its namesake, social acceptance and early intervention. By identifying low-cost and community-based programs, the committee hopes to determine how to better reach more youth with existing efforts and fill the gaps where services are missing. 

The Gap Kids Subcommittee, which launched in May of this year, is trying to find ways to “bridge the gap” for kids who struggle to find appropriate help with mental health issues. Currently in the research phase, this subcommittee is looking at referral data and case-by-case information. 

“This is really what I think ultimately brought us all together at the beginning,” Austin said. “It’s those kids who have behaviors that none of us feel adequately equipped to take care of. They don’t belong in detention, the [Division of Youth Services] programming isn’t appropriate for these kids, the behavioral hospitals cannot maintain staffing and safety with these kids and so they end up just kind of floundering in the system with nowhere to go. So what we’re doing is trying to first identify that problem and the scope of that problem, and then solutions.”

Lastly, the Assessment Tool Subcommittee’s goal is to standardize the same tools, best practices and a common language across the different agencies in Greene County.

‘Room for growth’ planning opportunities, future of collaborative

The collaborative held its third quarter meeting of 2023 at the Greene County Public Safety Center on Sept. 15. Attendees fleshed out the subcommittees and pitched ideas on how future meetings might look.

Once the subcommittees get up and running, they will be able to provide the entire collaborative information on their research and recommendations. In addition, each agency will report on the trends and successes they’re experiencing.

Future agendas will also include a presentation from a community provider, who will give an overview of what kind of work they do and their experiences on the front line to help their peers on the collaborative better understand what they do, and not just who they are.

The collaborative is exploring a grant opportunity that Austin said “looks like they wrote it for what we’re doing,” that would allow it to hire a full-time, “continuum coordinator,” who would effectively lead the collaborative.

Austin, who is a member of the Gap Kids Subcommittee, said some of what they’re doing is going to take “a while,” and while they are already seeing results, they plan to get creative to make progress on the “pervasive mental health issues” youth face.

“We are talking about legislation, we’re talking about philanthropy, we’re talking about how we can find funding for some of these gaps,” Austin said. “But in order to go and make any of that kind of change happen, we’re going to have to have data around it and we’re going to have to have a really good grasp around the problem.”

Jessica Bendure, the senior director of youth services at Burrell, said that there’s a lot of, “room to grow,” the collaborative through building connections between agencies and pathways for youth in need of different mental health services.

“Being able to know how can we best leverage all of the services that we do offer, with the community in mind, and how can we connect to all these services so that we really are trying to operate as one unit and not an agency itself,” Bendure said.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee