‘Shame on them’

Rolando Fuentes and Diva Bermudez, co-owners of Evanston’s Wraparound Services, are concerned about what the elimination of their program would mean for local families with at-risk children. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

Parents, professionals say state proposes eliminating ‘invaluable’ program due to budget cuts

EVANSTON — Rolando Fuentes and Diva Bermudez, co-owners of Evanston’s High Fidelity Wraparound Services agency, are accustomed to people asking, “What’s that?” when they tell people where they work. Wraparound is a program very few people are familiar with until they need it and then, according to those who have utilized the services, Wraparound is quite literally a lifesaver. Now, this lifesaving and life-changing program is one of those facing proposed elimination due to Wyoming’s fiscal situation.

According to the program website, High Fidelity Wraparound Services works to “coordinate care and build teams of support through the High Fidelity Wraparound model to manage day-to-day challenges of children, youth and their families.” Serving high-risk populations and families of children with “complex behavioral conditions,” the program utilizes a family-centered approach to bring together the numerous agencies and providers that may be involved in a child’s life to ensure a consistent approach and easier navigation for parents.

Put another way, Wraparound providers use their skills and expertise to get families, the legal system, schools, the Department of Family Services, medical and healthcare providers, counselors, psychiatrists and more to coordinate and collaborate in the care of the youth they serve. In so doing, they’re often able to avoid some of the more drastic actions — like removing children from their homes and placing them in state-run group homes — that often occur for youth with complex behavioral issues.

Fuentes, Bermudez and Kyla Maestas, Wraparound provider in Sweetwater County, all said the overall goal of Wraparound is to “work ourselves out of a job” by providing supports and services to families to enable them to navigate complicated systems and develop parenting, coping and other skills sufficient to allow for exit from the program.

Currently, the Wyoming Department of Health contracts with Magellan Healthcare to provide High Fidelity Wraparound Services, with a portion of the funding coming from the state and a match from the federal government. More than 250 families around the state are currently utilizing the program, said Maestas, with close to 100 care professionals employed with Wraparound agencies to serve at-risk families.

Not only does Wraparound provide services that simply aren’t available anywhere else, it’s far more cost effective and actually saves the state money in the long run, according to an information sheet from Magellan Wyoming. The average annual cost to serve a family with Wraparound is approximately $15,000, while the average annual cost of placing a child in a residential psychiatric treatment facility is approximately $58,000.

The program boasts impressive success rates, with 95% of youth served by Wraparound able to remain in their own homes. Children served by the program include those with autism, mental illness, physical trauma, emotional abuse and more, in a state in which parents told the Herald it is difficult to find professionals to help treat young people with such conditions.

Jeanna Martin, consulting teacher at Davis Middle School, said the elimination of the Wraparound program would be a “tragedy.”

“What they do for families in crisis is invaluable,” said Martin. “It’s difficult to think straight when you’re in crisis and going through these situations where these families are pretty fragile; having the support makes all the difference.”

Martin said the providers with Wraparound are experts on the services available and how to connect families to those services, ultimately helping parents learn parenting skills, how to advocate for their kids, how to navigate the legal and school systems and find counselors and mental health providers and helping kids learn coping and life skills.

Evanston pediatrician Dr. Bird Gilmartin said Wraparound is “an incredible connection point to help support families with children with mental or behavioral health diagnoses” that “functions as an essential bridge, helping families with their goals and connecting families to community resources, such as housing, transportation, work support and parenting classes.”

Gilmartin said she personally utilizes Wraparound services or sees a child involved with Wraparound on an almost weekly basis. “They are a trusted ally and support for more vulnerable families. They are one of the most important tools in my toolbox.” She said Wraparound serves as a connection point for “a lot of different spokes of the wheel” to help provide a “unified team I can call and communicate with to help me support a family.”

Gilmartin said the services provided by Wraparound are especially important in rural Wyoming.

“Mental health resources in our community can be limited and challenging to access, especially for pediatric patients. Having a service like Wraparound makes a real difference in the lives of these children and their families,” she said. “Losing this service would be a huge loss for our community … I consider their services essential. Wraparound does not apply to all our families and is not the right fit for everyone, but I fear these proposed cuts would lead to more health disparities in the future.”

It’s the stories from parents, however, that shine light on what Wraparound does and how devastating it would be to lose such a program.

Diana, a community member who has two sons with behavioral issues, said Wraparound has made all the difference for her family. One son has severe autism and began having behavioral issues at a very young age.

(Editor’s note: Diana and other parents asked that we not use their last names to prevent possible bullying.)

“We ended up in the court system due to his behavior at school, and when he was 6 years old, he was removed from our home and placed in lockdown until they could find a center for him,” Diana explained, her voice cracking.

Compounding matters, one of her older sons also began exhibiting behavioral problems, which were eventually determined to stem from a severe concussion injury that resulted in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and a diagnosis of auditory hallucinations.

Diana detailed feeling overwhelmed trying to navigate the legal system after her son was placed in a residential treatment center and how she didn’t know where to turn to find help for her children’s complex issues.

“I can’t speak highly enough about what Wraparound has done for us,” she said. “There’s still so much stigma around mental health issues and it’s so difficult to find the professional help in Wyoming. … Realistically, without Wraparound, we would have lost both boys and they would both be in residential treatment. They pull tricks and resources out of places you didn’t think possible. No other place does what Wraparound does.”

Beth shared a similar story and pushed back on the stereotype that parents of children with behavioral issues are somehow at fault. Beth is highly educated, with a master’s degree. “Just because you have an advanced degree doesn’t mean you always know what to do as a parent,” she said.

Her son began exhibiting behaviors and getting in legal trouble at the age of 10. “I was at wit’s end,” she said. “It was just too much to know how to handle but I didn’t want to bring in outside help. I was embarrassed and it’s not something people like to admit.”

Beth said the professionals at Wraparound provided assistance in a non-judgmental way, offering a fresh and outside perspective and support, while still holding parents and kids accountable for their actions and choices.

“My son has gone from literally running away from police to waving at them,” she said. “It’s a program that’s not very well known in the community. I had no idea what it was until I was about to completely lose it,” said Beth, who was referred to the program by an insurance company representative.

Veronica said her family has relied extensively on Wraparound since adopting a child with behavioral problems. She explained her family had served as a foster family for at-risk children and ultimately formally adopted two of those children. One of those children, her daughter, began to exhibit violent behavior several months after the adoption was formalized.

“We were violently terrorized by our 9-year-old,” she said. “You feel like all the love you could give a child would be all that they could need, and that’s not true,” said a tearful Veronica, who said even her family, who had provided therapeutic foster care for multiple children, had no idea where to turn for help.

“I had to call law enforcement on my daughter,” she said, for behaviors she described as “so incredibly violent.” “Without Wraparound, our desire to open our hearts and home would have ended. We would have given her up and been charged with child abandonment,” which she said would have given her adopted son doubts about whether they would give him up as well and may have broken their family apart.

“Wraparound did just that. It wrapped around our entire family and helped keep us safe,” said Veronica. “This program is a lifeline. They help you navigate a system that is not designed to be accessible. We would be broken without them, but our daughter is still in our home.”

Two additional local families shared similar stories of being in distress and not knowing where to turn for help, not just for their children with behavioral problems but the entire family. Anne, a single mother, said Wraparound had even been there to help with things like transportation or finding steady employment, so she was able to better focus on her kids’ needs. “If it was gone, we’d miss out on a lot,” she said. “I honestly don’t know what we would do.”

Kathy said two of her sons had demonstrated problem behaviors, including suicidal ideation and self-harm impulses, that Wraparound was able to help with — one of her sons is now an adult and doing well and the other is a teen who is able to now mentor other Wraparound youth.

All five parents who shared their stories with the Herald said Wraparound not only provided connections to resources and coordinated meetings with every person and agency involved in a child’s unique situation, but also helped with finding mental health professionals, health insurance options and even lower-cost psychiatric medications. In addition, Wraparound provided counseling for other siblings in the home impacted by the behaviors, took students on field trips, connected parents to support groups, provided supplies and taught students cooking classes, helped with schoolwork and even county fair entries, facilitated counseling and therapeutic horseback riding and more.

Diana and Kathy said Wraparound also helped connect their kids with other kids with similar issues to provide a support network and helped make their existing friends part of the care team.

“Sometimes one of my son’s friends was able to see that anxiety building and then had the tools to pull him aside and help him work through it,” said Kathy.

“Kids with disabilities can be socially awkward,” said Diana. “Wraparound helps them build genuine and supportive friendships, and also helps them with public speaking, peer support, advocating for other kids, helping others and so much more.”

Kathy said, “It seems like a little program that doesn’t do much and really doesn’t matter, but it’s actually a little program that does a whole lot and matters a whole lot.”

“As a parent, you just feel so lost when you have a child with so much need. You just don’t know what to do, and they’re there,” said Diana. “It’s just amazing.”

“Why cut a program that is protecting families, no matter what that family looks like?” asked Veronica. “If they get rid of this program, shame on them.”


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