BILLINGS - Demand for mental and behavioral services for youth in Montana continues to rise with many young people facing more challenges than ever.
“The changing times, the increasing things that children have to deal with, particularly trauma-related, is what has really challenged our communities across the state of Montana,” says Dennis Sulser, CEO for Youth Dynamics, a nonprofit that provides out-patient and residential therapy for hundreds of children in 20 Montana communities.
Sulser says there are many reasons for that trend.
“Any kind of disruption in a child’s life is difficult. Sometimes that comes from the result of a death in the family, a divorce, drug and alcoholism. Those are really challenging situations for kids,” says Sulser.
Cynthia Lund has seen the difference therapy can make with her own children.
“My son has severe anxiety and severe ADHD; my daughter has severe anxiety and PTSD from past situations before Youth Dynamics got involved,” she said.
Lund says that when they were referred to Youth Dynamics about a year and half ago by Child Protective Services, the family was in crisis.
“They helped with counseling therapy and some community resources that really helped our family become better and have more togetherness. And be able to relate to each other without having angry outbursts and fighting and having qualms,” Lund says.
Sulser says that youth and their families are most often referred to Youth Dynamics from schools, the juvenile court system, and child and family services. The first thing they do is to assess the child’s mental health.
“It’s a comprehensive screening that therapists will do. And from that we make a plan for each and every child. And each plan is different,” he says.
Cynthia says the plan is working for her family. Therapy has helped her daughter and son cope much better and home and school.
Since its beginnings in Montana back in 1981, Youth Dynamics has gone from serving just a handful of youth to a high of 2,700 in 2021.
And just like many of the families they serve, Youth Dynamics is also facing challenges. It’s become harder to find staff since the pandemic—and funding, most of which comes from Medicaid or state-level assistance, is always a worry.
“The uncertainty of funding has been a challenge for us—knowing how to provide the services at the level that they are needed and at the cost that it takes to deliver services,” Sulser says.
Services that have led to many success stories including Cynthia’s family.
“It’s helping with anger and things at school. It’s really actually helped me a lot,” says her seven-year-old daughter, Felicity.
“I don’t know how else to put it, but they have really helped our family,” Cynthia says.