Apr 2, 2008

Reflection on GAINS

At the biennial GAINS Conference in Washington DC, members of the Behavioral Health Court team had the opportunity to connect with providers and justice system personnel. The GAINS Center is a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As stated on the GAINS Center's website,

"The 2008 CMHS National GAINS Center Conference represents a unique opportunity for practitioners and researchers working at the interfaces of the criminal justice and mental health systems to network, learn, and share knowledge on creating effective services for justice-involved individuals with mental illness."

Several members of the team were proud to represent San Francisco's program as workshop presenters. Kathleen Connolly Lacey, Program Director of Citywide Case Management Forensics (the UCSF affiliated agency many BHC clients go to for case management, therapy, groups and psychiatric care) led a presentation titled "Whatever It Takes: San Francisco's Experience of Combining Evidence-Based Treatment Practices and Recovery Principles in a Mental Health Court." Jennifer Johnson, Deputy Public Defender, participated in a panel discussion on the "Defense Perspective" in mental health courts, and the entire team led a session called "Why Mental Health Court Matters to your Community," describing the evolution of BHC and its impact to the larger San Francisco community.

Here are some things team members had to say about their experience at the GAINS Conference:

Danica Jardini, BHC/Mental Health Paralegal - Office of the Public Defender
The most memorable moments for me at the conference were hearing the first-hand stories of individuals who have cycled in and out of the criminal justice system and what is like for a person with a serious mental illness or history of substance abuse to traverse the justice system while working toward recovery. Some of these stories were highlighted in the Voices of Jericho documentary and from mothers in recovery working with the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, who were able to immensely benefit from family-based treatment addressing their trauma and addiction. These stories emphasize the need to create more effective services for people with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.
Leslie Cogan, Assistant District Attorney
Overall the GAINS conference had a lot of informative and interesting sessions to attend. Their Keynote speakers had innovative, insightful and relevant information to convey to the audience. My thought that mentally ill persons are likely to be survivors of trauma was affirmed by studies that show that 90% of people with serious mental health issues have suffered trauma. Sessions that addressed how to serve survivors of trauma were of interest to me. The two sessions I found most impactful and helpful were the films shown in the film festival which gave a first hand account from mentally ill people themselves about their struggles to survive in society and stay out of the criminal justice system and what worked for them to succeed. The other session that left an impact on me was learning about the Family Based Treatment Model which stresses that recovery programs must treat the client and their children at the same time in order for recovery to be successful. A wonderful program that show cased this model was Shields For Families in Los Angeles.
Yesie Esquivel, Deputy Probation Officer
It was my first time at the GAINS conference and I was very excited to attend. Close to 1200 people from all over the United States were in attendance. The participants included Judges, Attorneys, Mental Health Providers, Probation officers, Police officers and other professionals invoved with the Mental Health System and Mental Health Courts. The sessions included a focus on Trauma and also sessions about collaboration between the Law Enforcement Community, clinicians and other service providers working with mentally ill clients. I found these sessions paticularly helpful. It was also encourgaging to see that there is a focus on collaboration in other parts of the country.

Lisa Lightman, Director of Collaborative Justice Programs
The importance of Forensic Peer Specialists was an enlightening experience for me at the GAINS conference. Forensic Peer Specialists are mental health consumers who can play a key role in helping other consumers recover from their psychiatric disabilities. In the beginning of their integration back to the community, some panelists shared the following: “I needed a reason why I should stop using drugs.” “Being mandated to a program is not the worst thing.” “You need to show up to do your part. Medication doesn’t make you totally better.” Over time, as a person becomes even more integrated into the community, the option of taking a Forensic Peer Specialist Training course can ultimately lead to work in human services organizations that provide services or supports to other mental health consumers.

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