village mural
A motivational mural on a wall at The Village for Families and Children Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

Elected officials and medical experts have been working for years to improve mental health services for children, especially as more adolescents began asking for help during and after the pandemic. 

Families, though, kept running into a consistent problem: they couldn’t find the proper place to take children during a mental health crisis. 

In response, three urgent crisis centers have opened around the state and a fourth is expected to open soon. One of the facilities is located at The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, where state officials attended a grand opening ceremony on Wednesday. 

“What we’re doing here is transformative, not only for the Village, it’s transformative for the state,” Galo Rodriguez, CEO of the Village, said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

The urgent crisis centers offer an alternative both to emergency rooms, designed to help people with physical ailments, and out-patient services that are not able to respond to mental and behavioral health crises. 

Galo Rodriguez
Galo Rodriguez, CEO of the Village for Families and Children Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

Three of the centers are located at the Village’s campus on Albany Avenue in Hartford, Yale-New Haven hospital in New Haven and Wellmore Behavioral Health in Waterbury. 

Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes said a fourth location — the Child and Family Agency of Southern Connecticut’s location on Hampstead Avenue in New London — is set to open soon. 

The four centers are licensed by DCF, a new initiative approved by the legislature as part of a comprehensive child mental health bill approved in 2022. 

Rep. Tammy Exum, D-West Hartford, described visiting hospitals to talk with parents and seeing “children, some of them really small, balled up” in hallways while waiting for mental health services. 

“They’re wishing to save their child’s life and [hospitals are] the place that they think this is ‘hey, I hit ground zero, I need help and support,” she added. 

Tammy Exum
Rep. Tammy Exum, D-West Hartford, speaks during an Aug. 2 press conference Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

Those parents often complained that they had to wait hours to get help from mental health specialists, though, and that support was often lacking. 

Rodriguez said that’s because emergency rooms are not the best places for children who are in a mental health crisis. 

Emergency rooms, even at Connecticut Chidlrens’ Medical Center, are designed to help patients with physical ailments. Those who are having a mental or behavioral health problem often have to wait. 

Those same emergency rooms can be overwhelming for someone in a crisis, though. Parents also complained that emergency rooms would help stabilize their child’s behavior and dismiss them with no connection to additional resources. 

Rodgriuez said the urgent crisis centers are designed to address all of those problems. Statewide, the four facilities will have a total of 72 beds and offer services 24 hours a day. The Village’s center has 19 beds, each in its own room, allowing children privacy. 

The facility is also staffed with counselors and specialists trained to help children with a mental or behavioral health crisis. 

Lastly, Rodriguez said the campus has dedicated space for children who need additional care or support after 24 hours at the crisis center. 

Teneshe Oats, whose son has come to The Village for care, said the dedicated space is great for families. 

“I think this is just going to be wonderful for the state and our children,” she said. 

Rodriguez estimated the urgent care center and space for additional treatment will cost The Village about $7 million annual. 

Dorantes said the state is taking a number of other steps to increase support for children, with $468 million dedicated to mental health services. 

This includes additional mobile clinics around the state that offer emergency care and expanding the availability of Access Mental Health, which offers families services through their pediatricians.