Muskegon County Youth Serving Systems Share Partnership Outcomes

Muskegon, MI: It’s been just over a year since the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded HealthWest a four year, $4 million grant to build and strengthen partnerships among local agencies to effectively address the needs of youth with, or at-risk for, mental illness and other challenges. The grant is providing resources to fill gaps in the system ultimately providing a “System of Care” for children and their families.

MYalliance (Muskegon Youth Alliance) System of Care is a collaboration between youth, parents, schools and agencies working together to improve services for youth across Muskegon County. This effort is focused on increasing access to needed services and engaging youth and families to help design the programs that serve them.

The Systems of Care approach helps communities to see better outcomes for youth and families including improved mental health, better school results, and youth staying safe and out of trouble. Systems of Care is all about collaboration, cultural understanding, resiliency, and community engagement.

The Systems of Care approach has two major components: System level strategies and service level strategies. At the system level, a formal governance structure has been developed, cross-system professional development is regularly occurring, barrier busting is underway and increased youth, young adult and family engagement is happening across the various youth serving systems.

At the service level there are four major services being built to support multi-system engaged youth or youth at risk for behavioral health challenges. These include a school based approach with Pathways to Potential and other community partners to bring mental health clinicians and supports into the local school districts, a County-wide mobile stabilization response for youth in crisis, a shared assessment tool and process across systems, and a partnership supporting the redesign of Muskegon County’s Juvenile Justice System in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati.

One of the largest service level pieces of MYalliance is rolling out school based mental health services in seven Muskegon County school districts. Following an interview process with the seven applying school districts, it was decided that the three districts included in phase one of the program roll-out would be Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System, Orchard View Public Schools and Reeths-Puffer Public Schools. These three districts started the school year with additional supports through MYalliance System of Care. School based services will be expanded to Holton Public Schools and Montague Public Schools starting in the 2018/2019 school year and Muskegon Public Schools and Oakridge Public Schools in the 2019/2020 school year.

HealthWest and its partners are working to fill system gaps in collaboration with the State of Michigan’s Pathways to Potential model which provides school-based human services staff to improve outcomes in attendance, education, health, safety and self-sufficiency.

In order to sustain the systems once in place, conversations are taking place with the State of Michigan to develop strategies like braided and blended funding between systems and reinvesting dollars saved from diverted residential and psychiatric placements. Other community based funding mechanisms are also being sought out.

Current Systems of Care partners include HealthWest, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, Muskegon County Family Court, The Juvenile Transition Center, Muskegon County, individual school districts, youth serving agencies, healthcare organizations including federally qualified health centers, and area youth and families.

The implementation of establishing Systems of Care stems from a County-wide survey that studied “ACEs”, Adverse Childhood Experiences, or traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, or family dysfunction that affect Muskegon County’s population. Data from a national ACE study shows that there is a direct relationship between a person’s ACE score and negative health and social outcomes. From November 2015-September 2016, the ACES Muskegon team made up of cross-agency partners and community members conducted the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) survey, collecting retrospective information from 2,252 adults living and working in Muskegon County. The data showed that Muskegon County residents as a whole have more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) than the national average. For more information on the ACEs survey, visit