OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Oklahoma Human Services are working together to help children receive health services through a new program for at-risk kids.

Specialty Program for At-Risk Kids (SPARK) provides care coordination for children in Child Welfare Services custody to ensure they have access to service at a time when early intervention is crucial, according to an OHCA news release.

OHCA and OKDHS will utilize the SPARK program to identify behavioral health and medical needs earlier and refer children in the program to needed interventions.

OKDHS will refer children who require mental health treatments to OHCA. An OHCA care coordinator will work with the child’s primary caretaker and their health providers to obtain mental and physical health services covered by SoonerCare, according to the news release.

“Many times, the first experience families and caretakers of these children have with Oklahoma’s behavioral health treatment system is when the child is in crisis and has an immediate need for crisis stabilization or inpatient treatment,” said Traylor Rains, State Medicaid Director at OHCA. “By identifying behavioral health needs earlier in the child’s life through screening and individualized care management, we can ensure services are available in the least restrictive environment possible and prevent the additional trauma that comes along with removing a child from their home to receive inpatient services.” 

SPARK care coordinators find resources for children in the program, schedule appointments, coordinate between specialists and physicians and monitor the child’s progress. The coordinator continues with a child’s case and finds resources in the child’s new location if the child’s placement were to change while in the program.

Five care coordinators are on staff, each handling approximately 150 children. OKDHS is currently responsible for 6,900 children in custody and provides post-adoption support to another 21,000.

“We know children and families can thrive when they have access to the right supports and tools at the right time in their lives,” said Dr. Deborah Shropshire, Director of Child Welfare Services at Oklahoma Human Services. “We are grateful for this partnership with OHCA and opportunities for earlier interventions that can positively change the trajectory for Oklahoma families who are facing challenging behavioral health needs. The support and service coordination provided by the care coordinators creates pathways and removes barriers to ensure families can access these desperately needed services.” 

Four families have been connected with care coordinators through the program. OHCA and OKDHS are working to identify more children who could benefit from SPARK.