March 4, 2020
(HOUSTON, TX) - As discussions regarding mental health have become more socially acceptable and a frequent topic of conversation, many social workers have been spearheading these efforts throughout their careers.
Jennifer Battle, an alum of the Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) serves as Director of The Harris Center for Mental Health. In this role, she supervises the Crisis Call Diversion Program (CCDP), a first-of-its-kind system collaboration with the Houston Police Department, Houston Fire Department, and the Houston Emergency Call Center.
Initially established in the early 2000s, the program aims to provide mental care services to a person calling 911 as opposed to dispatching a police officer or firefighter and, as a result, become a model for similar programs around the country.
"When I initially heard that The Harris Center wanted to ramp up a dedicated Crisis Line for Harris County in 2003, I knew I had to be a part of it," said Battle.
Even with the prospect of establishing a new program and approach to responding to 911 calls, Battle recognized that there would be significant, bureaucratic challenges that could slow down and possibly derail the project.
"We were going to be the first system in the entire US that co-located mental health professionals on the floor with a 911 center, so we had to create every single policy and procedure from the ground up. Of course, some people were skeptical that a program like this could work, or that people who called 911 would even want to talk with us instead of having an officer come to the scene," said Battle. "But, I love big, bold ideas."
Since its implementation, the program has seen a significant reduction in the dispatching of HPD or HFD in response to callers. Data shows that in cases where calls need and require further law enforcement assistance on-scene, the time the officer spent diffusing the situation saw a 50% reduction.
"Most calls to 911 and law enforcement don't have a criminal nexus. People are just doing what they have been told to do since they were little, if you need help, call 911," said Battle. "Inserting a mental health professional into the system opens up the entire continuum of mental health service options in our community for the caller."
Battle also acknowledged the national shortcomings of implementing programs similar to what The Harris Center provides with the Crisis Call Diversion Program.
"We would see fewer misinterpretations of actions and less miscommunication if we had more programs like ours. We are hoping to provide appropriate levels of care to reduce the use of law enforcement so that there would be fewer criminal charges and unwanted outcomes for both our clients and the police," said Battle.
Even with these challenges, Jennifer remains steadfast to her positive outlook on the future of caller dispatch and mental health. Coupled with the occasional reflection on her time at the GCSW, she keeps her eye on the big picture of social work.
"My GCSW experience was critical in helping me to see system changes as an essential and effective way to impact lives on a larger scale. Diverting thousands of calls in our community and communities across the country and positively impacting countless lives, I'm living my macro social work dream that came to fruition at the GCSW."