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28th annual Forum on Child Abuse and Neglect

Child advocate and author Shenandoah Chefalo talks to the crowd Friday at the 28th annual Forum on Child Abuse and Neglect at Indiana University Northwest. At the event, organizations from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties talked about bringing together social service agencies that work with children to figure out how best to coordinate services.

GARY — Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties each have organizations that bring together social service agencies that work with children to figure out how best to coordinate services.

At Friday's 28th annual Forum on Child Abuse and Neglect, the so-called Systems of Care talked about the importance of their work.

"Our families need services now or yesterday or two months ago," said Elena Magallanes, a parent ally with the Autism Society of Indiana, who got involved after searching for services for her own son, who is on the autism spectrum.

"I got a phone call last week: a child was going to be discharged from residential, single dad, on the waiting list (for a Medicaid waiver), needs day care ... what can he do? He has no other family support. This child needs to be home with his family."

The agencies collaborate to fill gaps in the system. For instance, the Lake County group realized there was no acute inpatient mental health services in the county for children aged 6-12. So they worked with an agency in Marshall County that will Skype with local emergency rooms to see if the children meet the criteria for admission there.

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"How can we work together ... to meet all these needs?" said Jennifer Dudrey, of Regional Mental Health Center. "How can we help a family that has to lock up the knives ... because their child could hurt somebody or hurt themselves?"

In LaPorte County, autism and childhood trauma were identified as the big needs.

"The System of Care is meant to ... catch some things that we can prevent," said Stephen Gill, coordinator for LaPorte County System Of Care. "If we can avoid crises, things can become more stabilized and healthy."

The groups try to figure out how to improve transportation, weekend services, vistations. They also each provide an access site for services (the numbers are 219-757-1868 for Lake County, 219-752-3465 for Porter County and 219-879-4621 for LaPorte County).

"It takes a village, and if we don't come together as a group to find those resources we're doing our clients a disservice," said Jennifer Styka-McCloskey, program director for Home Based Interventional Services.

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.