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Brazos County Juvenile Services to get rehabilitation help from Department of Psychology

Brazos County approves plan to allow doctoral students to do psychological assessments.

By Kelan Lyons, The Eagle

Starting Jan. 15, a doctoral candidate from Texas A&M University’s Department of Psychology will help conduct psychological assessments at the Brazos County Juvenile Services Department, fulfilling a vital role in the rehabilitation of children in trouble with the law by helping existing juvenile service staff develop treatment plans.

Brazos County Commissioners approved the agreement at their weekly meeting Tuesday. The contract runs from mid-January to May 31, 2018, according to a copy of the agreement, and costs the county $6,000.

Doug Vance, executive director of the county’s juvenile services department, said the agreement would provide his office with a “very valuable service” administered by “a qualified individual who has specialized training.” Vance estimated that local courts order between 75 and 80 psychological assessments of juveniles ages 10 through 17 every year; with the PhD candidate working 10 hours per week, Vance estimated the A&M student would complete between two and four assessments every month, lightening the load of the department’s existing staff and giving them more time to host drug and alcohol dependency group sessions, as well as groups focused on goal-setting, peer pressure and life skills.
Vance said the clinical psychology doctoral candidate will primarily administer the assessments but also could provide some therapeutic services and help with crisis interventions.

Each assessment takes about 10 hours, Vance estimates, and involve meeting with the child, performing a clinical interview, reviewing prior medical records, writing a report and interpreting the results.

Steve Balsis, director of clinical training for Texas A&M University’s clinical psychology doctoral students, said the contract “will put our student right in the front lines with working with juveniles who might have some mental health or behavioral challenges.”

Balsis said he hopes the contract is renewed every semester, so one doctoral candidate per semester could get field experience at the county’s juvenile services department.

Vance noted that the doctoral candidate’s role would be key in the treatment profile of each juvenile, as the stronger an assessment, the better the treatment plan.

“It can really help the kid,” Vance said of the assessments.

Melissa Magyar, deputy director of psychological and mental health services with the Brazos County Juvenile Services Department and an alumna of A&M’s clinical psychology doctoral program, said the added help will allow existing staff to enhance their mental health services by giving them more time to prepare for individual and group counseling sessions. Magyar said assessments are invaluable in each child’s treatment plan, as they help mental health professionals take the most appropriate actions possible to address each child’s needs and reduce their likelihood of committing future crimes or engaging in antisocial behavior.

“To me, the treatment process is pretty much assessment-driven,” she said.

Brazos County Precinct 4 Commissioner Irma Cauley, who was a juvenile probation officer for nine years, said the added support will help at-risk youth and their parents in need of counseling. Often, Cauley said, children caught up in the juvenile justice system are acting out because of an underlying reason, such as unaddressed trauma; more mental health professionals means more opportunities to help these children and their families, Cauley said.

The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, not retribution, Cauley said, which involves modifying antisocial behavior, determining what happened in the child’s past that caused them to act out and identifying how to treat their needs to ensure they don’t end up in the adult criminal justice system.

Though the contract approved this week by county commissioners expires in May, Cauley said it could be renewed later in 2018.

“There’s a great need in the community,” Cauley said. “There’s never enough counselors.”

Originally posted here.