HHS Releases New National Guidelines for Improving Youth Mental Health Crisis Care

HHS and SAMHSA released a new report, National Guidelines for Child and Youth Behavioral Health Crisis Care, which describes the urgent need to improve crisis response services for children, youth, and families and provides guidance on how communities can address the existing gaps in care for youth.

The National Guidelines for Child and Youth Behavioral Health Crisis Care offers best practices, implementation strategies, and practical guidance for the design and development of services that meet the needs of children, youth, and their families experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Additional technical guidance is provided in a companion report produced by SAMHSA in conjunction with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, A Safe Place to Be: Crisis Stabilization Services and Other Supports for Children and Youth. This report is part of a 10-paper compendium “From Crisis to Care” that will be released in the coming weeks.

As the national guidelines outline, the need for developmentally and culturally appropriate crisis response services for youth is crucial, and yet while many crisis response systems have robust services in place for adults, there are often considerable gaps in capacity to serve youth and families.

SAMHSA’s guidelines recommend that youth in crisis from mental health and substance use disorders receive care in the least restrictive setting possible, and if it is safe, at home and in the community. Whenever possible, hospitalizations and justice system involvement should be safely reduced or prevented.

As with adults, the guidelines recommend that crisis services for children and families ensure that youth and families have:

  • Someone to Talk To: Crisis Call Centers, including the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, offering 24/7/365 access to counselors with specialized training to respond to youth and families
  • Someone to Respond: Mobile Response Teams, to respond to crises at homes, schools and elsewhere in the community, keeping youth in their homes when safe to do so
  • A Safe Place to Be: Crisis Receiving and Stabilization Services, including in-home services, at crisis care facilities, emergency departments and hospital settings

According to SAMHSA’s recommendations, crisis response systems should partner with agencies across the continuum of care for children and youth: including schools, family and peer support, community organizations, child welfare and foster care, juvenile justice, pediatricians and other primary care providers, and law enforcement when appropriate.