Missouri governor shows support for increasing behavioral health

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Jan. 23—Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is advocating for an increase in the number of youth behavioral health liaisons around the state, which would lead to 27 new positions in Missouri if approved.

Parson's show of support cast a spotlight on St. Joseph, as Family Guidance Center's Phallin Thornton, a youth behavioral health liaison, as well as a local mother and daughter, were recognized during last week's State of the State address.

Receiving support is a promising sign, especially since liaisons often cooperate with school resource officers and counselors, Thornton said.

"It will allow us to be able to reach more children, youth and families," she said. "Being able to do that, it just really opens that opportunity for us to continue working with those community support agencies."

Youth behavioral health liaisons work with children, often contacted through the child's school or an SRO, to provide screenings or other mental health resources.

"Our goal is to make sure that we evaluate them and either can create a safety plan to keep them safe in their home, or if they are needing to be hospitalized, making sure that we can do that and keep them safe that way," she said.

One advantage for liaisons is that they aren't in uniform, so going into a situation might not put a person on edge the same way seeing a law enforcement officer could, Thornton said.

The possibility of creating nearly 30 new youth behavioral health liaison positions around Missouri is especially important because many counties don't have a dedicated liaison, Thornton said.

"There's several youth behavioral health liaisons that cover multiple counties," she said. "Even though like Buchanan County — I'm in Buchanan County — there are other YBHLs who serve different counties, so they may have six counties and (be) more spread out."

Having the opportunity to attend the governor's speech was significant for Thornton, but she said what made a bigger impact was how well the situation was handled by the St. Joseph student that Thornton attended with.

"It was a huge honor," Thornton said. "But being able to also have her there and to have her see the impact of her story was just such a beautiful thing to witness.

"In our role, being able to bridge those gaps between those other services is the most important part of being able to help connect the families and kiddos."

Alex Simone can be reached at alex.simone@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.