Texas Children’s Health Plan Centers for Children and Women – Improving Behavioral Health Care for Houston’s Children

In November 2016, Texas Children’s Health Plan began serving children with medical and behavioral complexities through the STAR Kids program. Many of these children receiving STAR Kids Medicaid coverage have complex developmental disabilities such as Autism and Intellectual Disability. Other STAR Kids patients have chronic and challenging emotional diagnoses such as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Historically in Texas, families of children with complex psychiatric and behavioral needs have faced serious barriers to care. In fact, Texas ranks 46th out of all states in terms of access to mental health care (Mental Health America, 2014). What this means is that instead of getting treatment to help their children develop, far too often in Houston parents of youth with Autism are left alone to try to cope with the severe behavioral needs of their child; a mother of a teen with Schizophrenia is often forced to turn to the revolving doors of emergency rooms to keep her child safe.

The Centers for Children and Women offers an alternative to this approach that providers the patient and family with a robust healthcare team that focuses on the patient’s medical and behavioral health needs in an integrated care model. “At The Centers for Children and Women, we are proud to serve patients covered under TCHP STAR Kids,” said Brunilda Ortiz, LCSW, Center clinical therapist. “There is no greater joy in our work than helping secure services, removing barriers, and coordinating care for patients.”

Like all patients seen at The Centers, those covered by STAR Kids have access to their pediatric primary care and behavioral health specialists, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or social worker at the same visit. This means the patient and family can have all of their needs met on the same day which is important to families.

To help engage patients in care, all behavioral health services are provided in English and Spanish, and the behavioral health clinic offers extended hours, open 85 hours per week. This means that families who historically could not make 9-5 appointments care can now come evenings or weekends for the therapies their children need. Patients with STAR Kids seen at The Centers also benefit from behavioral modification therapy for children with severe behavioral disorders, evidence-based individual therapies for children with depression, anxiety, and self-injurious behaviors, and intensive outpatient step-down services for youth with recent psychiatric hospitalization. The Centers also offer family support groups and behavioral health home visits to help ease the burden of caring stress that families with children with medical and behavioral complexities experience.

Dr. Arlene Gordon-Hollingsworth, Center psychologist shares, “I love that we are embedded in a setting that allows us to deliver evidence-based and integrated behavioral health services to our children with STAR Kids. This setting allows most of our families’ needs to be addressed with one stop; this truly can help to alleviate some of the burden our families face when they have to utilize multiple specialties frequently.”