Tulare County's 1st youth crisis center set to open

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The opening of a 24-hour child crisis center is now in the works in Tulare County.

Tulare County Health and Human Services will partner with Kaweah Health to operate the facility, after receiving a $4.9 million grant for the construction.

The youth crisis stabilization center will be the first of its kind in the South Valley.

"We have crisis stabilization units in Fresno, Bakersfield. We do not have one anywhere near us," explained Dr. Casie Ennis, division manager of clinical services.

Officials with Tulare County Health and Human Services said there's been an increase in youth crisis calls since 2018.

According to Ennis, each year, the county has seen about a 30% increase. The pandemic only heightened the need for crisis services.

"A lot of times, we're getting calls from caregivers, from others, when they start to notice that a young person is making statements about not wanting to be around, wanting to hurt themselves," she said. "Even in situations where we've found a young person trying to hurt themselves."

According to Kaweah Health, right now, children have to go to the emergency room, wait -- sometimes for hours -- just to get evaluated by a crisis worker or psychiatrist.

The new crisis center will eliminate that.

"What this will do is this will get children linked to services much more quickly than they would without a crisis stabilization unit," said Dr. Cory Jaques, a child psychiatrist at Kaweah Health.

Health leaders said hospitals can traumatize children.

"Emergency room can be a very scary, very intimidating place, especially if they have to stay overnight," said Dr. Jaques.

Dr. Ennis added: "We know from research that any youth that goes in for an inpatient stay, upon discharge, has a heightened risk of suicide for up to 10 years than if they hadn't been hospitalized."

Kaweah Health's psychiatric residency program will help staff the center, which will provide a calm, safe space for children to receive help immediately, so they can return home or to school.

Officials said the permanent location should be up and running by 2026.

The temporary location will be across from Kaweah's ER, on West Noble Avenue. The community will be notified when its open to the public. Officials are hoping that's before the end of the year.
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