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Averting Crises in the Bronx

Devon Bandison, MPA, Director of Children’s Services for VNSNY Community Mental Health Services (CMHS), has been with VNSNY since 2001. He discusses his work and his experience as a TED Talk presenter.

What services does Community Mental Health Services provide for children?

Most of our children’s services are delivered through our FRIENDS programs, based in the Bronx. They include our Children’s Mobile Crisis Team (MCT), which responds within two hours when a child is experiencing an acute mental health crisis; a crisis stabilization program that responds to less-acute problems within 48 to 72 hours; home-based crisis intervention services for children who are usually transitioning from inpatient psychiatric care; a Promise Zone program that works with children in five Bronx-area elementary and middle schools, and our Article 31 mental health clinic. We serve over 1,000 children and their families per year, with many positive short-term outcomes. For children who need longer-term treatment, we provide referrals to our own clinic or another outpatient provider.

How are these programs funded?

Through a combination of New York State and City grants and private donations. The city recently funded the expansion of our children’s MCT to Queens and Brooklyn, and also renewed our Promise Zone program for the fifth year. Besides treating children, the Promise Zone trains school staff and connects schools with local resources. It’s resulted in increased attendance, improved grades, fewer suspensions, and less utilization of the emergency room.

What makes VNSNY’s mental health services for children so effective?

We have a very talented group of professionals who care deeply about the families and communities they serve. Many of these families are distrustful of institutions, so our first priority is to engage them, let them know we care, and provide hope. Once that bond is formed, then we can start to demonstrate our clinical skills.

You recently did a TED Talk on fatherhood. How did that come about?

In addition to my work at VNSNY, I do some coaching and motivational speaking. Someone saw one of my presentations and invited me to do a TED Talk in Boca Raton, Florida. It was a great experience. My talk was about fathers as leaders. Through my work and my own experience as the father of three children, I’ve seen how much fathers influence their families and communities through their actions and the example they set. Fatherhood and leadership really go hand in hand.

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