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Families & Caregivers

Families & Caregivers

Families & Caregivers


Information about mental health services will help you make sure your child is receiving the best care possible. The following information will help you understand the world of children's mental health services including talk therapy, community supports and psychotropic medications.
  • The term “mental illness” is used to talk about problems with thinking, feeling and behavior that get in the way of a person’s day to day life. These problems can also be upsetting to the child/youth and their family and friends.

    Every person’s experience with mental illness is different, but there are some things that can be seen in a number of mental illnesses. A few examples are:

    • Social Withdrawal – less time with friends, less time doing school or fun activities
    • Depression – sadness that doesn’t get better even with supports, irritability, blaming themselves for things out of their control, not being able to see good in situations, tiredness, sleeping or eating too much or not enough
    • Anxiety – fears about things that can’t cause harm, not being able to be out of sight of some adults (for example, not being able to go to sleep in their own room, afraid to go to school)
    • Attention/Focus – having a hard time completing work, making careless mistakes, disorganized, forgetful
    • Impulse control – hard time stopping to think before acting, interrupting others
    • Getting along with others – arguing with people in charge (parents, teachers), fighting with peers, not taking blame after making mistakes
    • Excessive anger/aggression

    Mental illness can cause mild or severe problems for children and families. Mental illness can be short or long term.

    When trying to understand mental illness, it is important to look at all the possible causes. Health problems, relationship problems and environment stresses can all be causes of mental health problems, so all of these must be thought about during an assessment.

    For more information:

  • Information about mental health services will help you make sure your child is receiving the best care possible. The following information will help you understand the world of children's mental health services including talk therapy, community supports and psychotropic medications.

  • If you have insurance

    If you have health insurance, ask your insurance provider (private insurance or Medicaid) to explain your benefits. You can reach your insurance private provider (private insurance or Medicaid) by calling the toll-free number on the back of your card.

    If you do not have insurance

    If you do not have health insurance, the following resources may help:

    • Children's Special Health Care Services - Children's Special Health Care Services is a Michigan program within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that provides certain approved medical service coverage to some children and adults with special health care needs. Children must have a qualifying medical condition and be under 21 years of age. Persons 21 and older with cystic fibrosis or certain blood coagulating disorders may also qualify for services.
    • Medicaid – Medicaid is available to eligible persons under age 21. There is an income test and an asset test for this program*. Some people might be eligible but have to pay a deductible. Beneficiaries can get a package of health care benefits that may include vision, dental, and mental health services. To apply, contact the local Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in your county, or apply online using MI Bridges.

    * For youth who were in foster care on or after their 18th birthday, the income and asset test does not apply. For more information, visit

    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Children - SSI is a cash benefit for disabled children whose families have a low income. The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines SSI eligibility. If eligible for SSI, children get Medicaid, too. Most beneficiaries are enrolled in a Medicaid health plan. Medicaid may continue even if SSI stops. To apply, you will need to complete an Application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) AND a Child Disability Report with the Social Security Administration.
    • Adoption Medical Subsidy – An Adoption Medical Subsidy is available to children who have been adopted through Michigan’s child welfare system, and are found eligible under certain conditions, the cause of which occurred before the child was adopted. Adoption Medical Subsidy is used as a payer of last resort for eligible adopted children.
  • In an emergency

    If you need help because of an emergency, for example your child is talking or acting in a way that is frightening or not safe, call 911. The 911 operator can help you and your child right away.

    For a non-emergency

    Your child’s primary care provider (family doctor, pediatrician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant) is one place to go for help when there are concerns about mental health problems.  The primary care provider can help you contact mental health providers.

    Sometimes your child’s school might also notice emotional or behavioral difficulties and can provide support in finding help.

    Another way to find services is to contact your child’s health insurance provider (private insurance or Medicaid) and ask about mental health providers connected to your health plan. It might take several phone calls to find a provider who has openings and can schedule an appointment. Many insurers provide services for children with mild to moderate mental health needs.

    The third way to find help for mental health problems is to call the local Community Mental Health (CMH) center. CMH helps children with serious mental health needs. CMH can help you determine if your child is eligible for CMH services, and if not, can help find other resources for your child or can refer you to services through your health plan.

    If you and/or your child do not have health insurance, contact your local Michigan Department of Health and Human Services office for help signing up for insurance.

    For more information:

  • Assessments are the first step to determining whether your child needs help, and if so what kind. The main purpose of an assessment is to get a clear picture of the needs that a child is having, the reasons for these needs, the strengths of the child and family and engage in a family-driven, youth-guided process to develop an individualized services plan. There are many kinds of assessments and sometimes a child might need several in order to figure out the best way to help. During the assessment process, parents and caregivers can ask about any specialized assessments that might be needed to understand their child’s and family’s situation and needs.

    Assessments are the most useful when the person(s) doing them has all the information available about the child including health history, past treatment, family history, and current and past living arrangements. As a parent, the knowledge and ideas you bring about your child and family are key to ensuring that the provider understands your child and family. Sometimes parents and caregivers worry about being judged or that they are doing things wrong, but you are the expert about your child. Before an assessment, the office where it is scheduled should be able to tell you how long the appointment will last, what information to bring and may ask your permission to get records from other places. This will help you know what to expect and plan your time.

    The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services works with providers in the community to make sure that children involved in child welfare services (that is, child protective services, foster care) can get the kinds of assessments they need. The first access point for an emotional or behavioral assessment is the child’s insurance (private or Medicaid). If an assessment is needed that can’t be paid for through insurance, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will work with the child’s Children’s Protective Services or foster care worker to schedule and pay for the assessment. Assessment is not a one-time activity. When children enter foster care there is usually an effort to make sure that assessments are done right away because these will be important to putting together an initial service plan. However, as children’s needs change over time, it is important to review how things are going and decide whether new assessments are needed.

    For more information:

  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists – Medical doctors (MD or DO) who have training and experience focused on assessing and treating children and adolescents with mental health problems.

    General Psychiatrists – Medical doctors (MD or DO) who have training and experience focused on assessing and treating adults with mental health problems. Sometimes general psychiatrists also work with children and adolescents.

    Primary Care Physicians – Medical doctors (MD or DO) who have training and experience in general medicine; for example, family doctors and pediatricians. Primary care physicians also sometimes assess and treat adults and children with mental health problems. A primary care physician might also want to refer a patient to a psychiatrist.

    Nurse Practitioners/Advanced Practice Nurses – Individuals with a nursing degree and have gone through additional training to provide some types of medical care. In Michigan, nurse practitioners provide care, treatment and education about health and mental health problems by working with a supervising physician. Nurse practitioners may provide services in primary care or in some mental health care settings.

    Physician Assistants – Individuals who have gone through specific training in medical care. In Michigan, physician assistants provide treatment of health and mental health problems by working with a supervising physician. Physician’s assistants work in both primary care and mental health settings.

    Psychologists – Psychologists can have a Master’s degree (limited licensed psychologist - LLP) or doctoral degree (licensed psychologist - LP) and provide assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Their primary focus is mental health and/or learning problems. In Michigan, psychologists may not prescribe psychotropic medication. Psychologists sometimes provide specialized assessments (see psychological and neuropsychological assessments).

    Case Managers – Case managers have (at least) a bachelor’s degree and training/experience in mental health systems and child/family engagement.

    Outpatient Therapists – Outpatient therapists have at least a master’s degree (for example and Masters of Social Work or MSW) and training/experience in mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment. They may have training and/or certification in specific types of therapy, for example Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Structural Family Therapy. Experience and certification is one way to decide whether a specific therapist will be good fit for the child and family.

    Home-Based Workers – Home-based workers can have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree depending on what kind of work they will be doing with the child and family. They can have training and/or certification in specific types of therapy.

    Wraparound Facilitators – Wraparound facilitators may have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or no advance degree if they have enough experience. They must have MDHHS approved training in the Wraparound model.

    Parent Support Partners – No degree is required to become a parent support partner, but they must have lived experience as a parent of a child involved in the mental health care system and hired by the Community Mental Health system or by a contract provider. Parent support partners must complete approved training.

    Youth Peer Support – No degree is required to be a youth peer support, but a youth peer support must have received mental health services as a youth and must complete MDHHS-approved training.  

    Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) – Board certified behavior analysts have at least a master’s degree and have completed a specific set of courses and exams as set by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. BCBAs provide comprehensive behavioral assessments using Applied Behavior Analysis and put together a plan of care for children or adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. They supervise the work of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT), and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA) who work directly with the child and family on the treatment goals.

    Occupational Therapists (OT) – Occupational therapists have gone through an accredited OT program and have a master’s degree. They are required to pass a state licensure examination.

  • The services listed below are provided by Community Mental Health to children with mental illness, serious emotional disturbance or developmental disabilities. The services provided to you and your child are determined by an initial intake assessment, development of an individualized plan of service and what is decided to be “medically necessary.” The descriptions below will give you an idea of the services that may be helpful to you and your child and family. Although there is a large array of services, the particular services provided to your child and family will be discussed during the development of your child’s family-centered, youth-guided individualized plan.

    For more information on mental health services please see the sections on Mental Health Services for Children and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services in the Michigan Medicaid Provider Manual.  

    Outpatient Child Therapy

    Sometimes when children and adolescents have emotional or behavioral problems, meeting with a counselor to learn new skills to understand and deal with thoughts and feelings can help them do better at home and in the community. Based on the assessment and discussion with the child and family, things like goals, treatment approaches and how often to meet are decided.

    Outpatient Family Therapy

    Outpatient family therapy is another option that counselors may use when it’s important for the family to work together on a child’s behavior. In this way, the whole family can work together on treatment goals.

    Home-Based Services

    Home-Based services are more flexible because the services occur in the home and community and can be scheduled more often than is usually true of outpatient counseling. Sometimes Home-Based services are recommended when a child and family have more intensive needs and services are focused on both the child and the family. The goals for Home-Based services, how often sessions are scheduled and what approaches will be used are decided together by the child, family and Home-Based worker. Home-Based services are designed to support the child to remain in their family home. Home-Based services also may be used when children and families who have been separated are working on being reunified.  

    Medication Review

    When children are taking psychotropic medications as part of their treatment plan, they will meet regularly with a medical provider to discuss whether the medications are helping enough and what problems, if any, the medications might be causing. These medication reviews are scheduled every few weeks or months depending on the child’s current situation. Because child and family input is important and children aren’t allowed by law to consent to medications, parents or guardians need to attend these appointments with children.


    Respite services provide relief from the daily stress and care demands of a child with behavioral challenges. Respite care for a child can be provided in the home or in another setting to support a parent who needs relief. Respite services can be scheduled on an hourly basis, or overnight, and can be added to a child’s comprehensive treatment plan.

    Community Living Support (CLS)

    CLS services are used to help a child or youth build his or her skills to be more successful in the community. CLS services are provided by aides who can help teach skills of activities of daily living (for example personal hygiene), social skills or other things that are part of the child’s care plan. CLS is also used with older children or adolescents to build skills so that they can become more independent.


    Wraparound is a planning process used when children and families need a higher level of support to achieve their goals and when the child is at risk of not being able to stay at home or in the community. The Wraparound process starts with the Wraparound facilitator bringing together the child, his or her family and other people the family wants to involve - for example, a special education teacher or a foster care worker. The Wraparound team identifies the child and family’s strengths and needs and decides how to help them meet their goals. The Wraparound team meets at least once a month to make sure all parts of the plan are going well and to adjust the plan if needed. Wraparound usually lasts several months to a year based on the progress in meeting the goals. When it is time to finish the Wraparound process, the team will figure out what service providers will continue to work with the family - for example outpatient counseling, Community Living Supports (CLS) and psychotropic medication follow-up.

    Case Management

    Case management services are provided when a child has emotional and behavioral needs and his or her family could use help connecting to supports and programs, like medical services, school supports or financial assistance. A case manager works with a family to figure out what supports are most needed and helps them connect to those services. They also help the family learn how to advocate for themselves.

    Parent Support Partner

    Parent Support Partners have personal experience parenting a child with emotional or behavioral needs and are experts at helping families to be empowered during the treatment process and to build confidence and skills to assist their child to improve. Parent Support Partners work with families as identified in their child’s family-centered, youth-guided, individualized treatment plan.

    Applied Behavior Analysis

    Applied Behavior Analysis is used in young children with autism to develop positive social skills and in older children with autism to help deal with challenging behaviors. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been studied and used for many years for children with autism. ABA is a way of figuring out the factors that affect a child’s behavior so that a plan to change behavior can be successful. It includes looking at situations a child may be experiencing before he or she does something, like hitting or running away. It also includes looking at how responses by adults after a behavior can make that behavior more or less likely in the future. ABA can be used at home, in school and during treatment sessions. It is important for all the individuals working with the child to be following a consistent plan. ABA providers have gone through specialized training in ABA and in helping teams to work together. 

    Intensive Crisis Stabilization Services (ICSS)

    A team from the local Community Mental Health office comes to the place a child and family is in crisis. Together with the child and family, they figure out what is going on and provide emotional support and relief. This could mean the family makes a safety plan until they can get in for an appointment, or it could mean the child will need to go to an emergency room. ICSS is available to all families and children in the community, not just those on Medicaid or in treatment at Community Mental Health. Available hours for ICSS vary for communities. Call the Community Mental Health main number and they will send the crisis team or let the family know what else to do.

    Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitalization

    Inpatient psychiatric care is used when a child or adolescent with mental illness or serious emotional disturbance needs 24/7 care because they are at a high risk of harming his/herself or someone else. Treatment usually includes individual therapy, group therapy, and medication treatment. Families are involved in treatment. Sometimes school services are available on site. For children who have Medicaid insurance, the decision about whether inpatient treatment is medically necessary is usually made by Emergency Services at the local Community Mental Health for the child’s legal county of residence. If a child is placed out of home in a different county, the county of legal residence will have to work out the best way to assess the need for inpatient care.

    Occupational Therapy / Sensory Integration Therapy

    These therapies help children build strength and coordination for day to day tasks and can help when a child has problems with how their senses react to the world around them, for example when children are extra sensitive to touch or noise. The goal of occupational therapy is to help children function better over the long term. Occupational therapy is provided by trained professionals for a specific period of time. A doctor’s referral is needed for occupational therapy assessment and treatment.

    Speech, Hearing, and Language

    Children who are struggling with making letter and word sounds, understanding language, or expressing themselves might get speech, hearing and language services for a specific period of time. A doctor must refer for assessment and treatment, and the services must be determined to be needed for the child to function (medical necessity). Services might be provided to the child alone or in a group, depending on the child’s needs.

    Evidence Based Practice (EBP)

    Evidence Based Practice is a general term used for treatment that has either been proven effective by research studies, or seems very likely to be useful based on the best opinion of experts in the field. Across Michigan, treatment providers are expected to use Evidence Based Practices.

    Substance Use Disorder Services

    Substance Use Disorder Services help people struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. It may include a number of interventions that are decided according to the individual’s need. When someone also has a mental health disorder it is addressed when developing the treatment plan.

    Youth Peer Support

    Youth Peer Support (YPS) is designed to support youth with a serious emotional disturbance through shared activities with the Youth Peer Support Specialist. The goals of YPS include empowering youth, developing skills to improve overall functioning and quality of life and working collaboratively with others involved in delivering the youth’s care. YPS services are provided by a trained youth peer support specialist, one-on-one or in a group, for youth who are resolving conflicts, enhancing skills to improve their overall functioning, integrating with community, school and family and/or transitioning into adulthood.