By Eelisa Jones
After three years of providing foster care services for young men, Jermaine Reed, founder of Fresh Start Family Counseling Center (FSFCC), said that he had recognized a trend which underlined many of his experiences within the foster care system: the deterioration of family life due to mental illness.
Mental illness is a pathology that runs throughout families. Every family is affected by mental illness, said Reed.
The cost of untreated mental illness within families often involves the separation of children from their biological parents or caretakers. Despite the prevalence of mental health issues within the child foster care complex in the early 2000s, Reed noted an overwhelming lack of mental health support for the biological families from which foster children came.
The Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (MCBHD) – the county’s public mental health agency and a major recipient of Milwaukee’s mental health referrals – has been overworked and underfunded for years.
The current instability of the county’s mental health services underscores the necessity for community-based mental health clinics – like Fresh Start – to take serious strides in supporting Milwaukee’s historically underserved communities.
In response to the perceived need for mental health support in specifically black communities, Reed founded and incorporated FSFCC in February 2003 as an outpatient mental health clinic. Reed said that he wanted to remain sensitive and responsive to the culturally-specific needs of the black families.
Reed, who had lived through the suicide of his uncle, said that he recognized a need to press the issue of mental health within the black population.
“In the African American community there is a huge thing about mental health [assistance] being taboo. You know, ‘You’re crazy if you go to counseling,’” said Reed. “So, I realized from a community perspective and a family perspective that we really had to pick up on the cultural cues that needed to be addressed.”
Reed said that FSFCC remains a unique agency because its foundation was significantly informed by the insights of the foster youth in his life.
After functioning as solely an outpatient mental health clinic, the FSFCC added a foster care division structured after the therapeutic foster care model – also known as the treatment foster care model. This model of non-biological childcare focuses on the mental health traumas and complications which often accompany a child’s entrance into the public foster care complex. The two major public foster care agencies in Milwaukee County are Milwaukee Child Welfare (MCW) and Wraparound Milwaukee (WM). WM offers services specialized for children who have displayed signs of trauma after leaving their biological homes.
Reed said that many of the families – parents, children, and other relatives – whom MCW and Wraparound Milwaukee served often had multiple mental health diagnoses and little social support. With the building of its foster care division, FSFCC aimed to reach to and assist such families.
Reed is currently the host of Fresh Start, a weekly radio program on WNOV 860, which airs Wednesdays 3pm-4pm. Fresh Start is entirely dedicated to topics relating to child-welfare and foster care.
Readers can learn more about Fresh Start by visiting the agency’s website at http://www.freshstartmilwaukee.com/
Jermaine Reed spoke to Eric Von during The Eric Von Show which airs Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on WNOV 860 AM The Voice.Listen to WNOV on TUNE IN on your mobile device or online at WNOV 860.com.