Rachel Ray, a Munroe-Meyer Institute parent resource coordinator, had been participating in Heartland Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for just more than six months when her son found himself in a mental-health crisis situation.
Ray had been, if not expecting such a situation, aware that it might occur. That was one reason she volunteered to join the MMI contingent on the CIT team. CIT training helps law enforcement officers and other first responders recognize common forms of mental illness and communicate effectively with people undergoing a crisis. MMI's role is to discuss individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
"Knowing that Dakota had behavioral and mental health issues, intellectual disabilities and is on the autism spectrum, we knew (a law enforcement interaction) probably was going to happen one day," she said.
Ray's teenage son was at a concert when he had a mental health episode resulting in security and law enforcement being called. Some of the officers who arrived, including an off-duty officer acting as a security guard, had undergone CIT training.
The result, Ray said, was an interaction where the officers, cognizant of the situation, de-escalated the situation while maintaining her son's safety.
"I have always been aware of the importance and effectiveness of this program," Ray said. "I was especially thankful for it then. Watching the officers assess and react to the situation gave me even more confidence in the work we do."
CIT training is a national program, and MMI and other UNMC providers, including Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Wellness Steve Wengel, MD, work with Lutheran Family Services to provide the 40-hour training for first responders. The training also includes other aspects - dealing with people with traumatic brain injuries, for example.
"Our portion of the training, which lasts about two hours, helps the officers learn how to recognize people with IDD, how to respond to them and how to de-escalate a situation," Ray said.
Starting in November, the CIT program also is offering a new, enhanced eight-hour training for first responders who already have undergone CIT training. The new program, which was requested by law enforcement officers, will provide more in-depth information on connecting individuals to community support following an encounter with first responders.
"There will be a lot of information on community resources and more steps for how to display empathy," Ray said. "We'll also have a panel of parents of juveniles who have had interactions with law enforcement and first responders, discussing their experiences."
Officers who have taken the basic training usually respond positively, Ray said.
"Officers report that they're going to make changes or apply learning, based upon information we supply during CIT," she said.
Ray said the training has included officers and first-responders from Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties, as well as more rural areas of the state, and even the Nebraska Humane Society has sent personnel.
"Everyone is eager to learn," she said. "That's the reason for this enhanced class. Officers recognized that they wanted more training and wanted to help more. They're hearing these family stories, particularly for youth and adolescents with IDD, and they're asking, 'What resources can we connect these families with? How can we help more?'"
Rachel does a fantastic job during the training and also provides additional information about I/DD