New Tool Helps SMPD Address Juveniles' Mental Health

San Marcos Police have a new tool in their box that will help officers support troubled youth.  The Police Department already works with a therapist from Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers (MHDD), Kelly Castillo. She is a co-responder with the Police Department’s mental health unit and acts as a bridge to those in need by providing guidance and resources so that peace officers can identify least harm solutions for those experiencing crisis.

 Now, San Marcos PD is taking those efforts a step further. Hill Country MHDD recently was awarded a Multisystemic Therapy (MST) team. Hays is one of three counties that will have the opportunity to work with one MST therapist and one supervisor. That means if an SMPD officer comes into contact with a juvenile who could be a good candidate for the program, all the officer needs to do is fill out a referral file.

 So what exactly is MST? It can be described as a new and different approach to deviate at-risk youth from a potential life of issues with the criminal justice system. This type of therapy treatment is community-based and family-driven. It encourages the people in the juvenile’s life to get involved in the solution by addressing behaviors with highly structured clinical supervision. The program is intended for young people, between the ages of 12 and 17, who have shown delinquent and/or criminal behavior, including juveniles who have exhibited aggressive or violent behavior, have abused or sold drugs, have had chronic school truancy, or have displayed behavioral problems at school.

The MST therapist will work with the juvenile’s family for about three to five months, on average. They will focus on empowering parents and caregivers to solve current and future problems. The therapist will also be on call around the clock, to ensure families are supported.

Multisystemic Therapy teams have proven to be an effective approach. The Missouri Delinquency Project compared a total of 176 juveniles who participated in either MST or individual therapy during a 22-year period. Individuals who participated in MST were 36% less likely to be arrested. That number rose to 75% when looking at violent arrests. Compared to juveniles who participated in individual therapy, juveniles who completed the MST program also spent 33% fewer days in adult confinement, had 38% fewer issues with family instability, and were 3% less likely to face financial problems in their life.  

Our teams in Hays County and SMPD are optimistic about the outcomes we’ll see locally. “Hill Country is grateful to have been granted the opportunity to operate this program,” Castillo said. “Hays and Comal County are the two largest counties that Hill Country serves, which gives the MST program the best chance for success.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission maintains a database of other resources available to members of the community in need. To search for services and information, visit 211Texas.org.