Left to Right: County Administrator Peter Austin, PSW Program Director Aimee’ Knop, County Chairman Michael Buehler, County Coordinator Chalen Daigle, PSW Program Clinical Supervisor Alana Bak, and Sheriff Bill Prim. | Provided Photo

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office has launched a new program with 17 local police departments to have social workers respond alongside officers to certain calls involving mental health crises.

The program was kicked off during an event at The Community Foundation for McHenry County in Crystal Lake on Tuesday.

In attendance were stakeholders, participating agencies and families of the social workers.

Speakers included McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, County Board Chairman Michael Buehler, Mental Health Board President Connee Meschini, McHenry County Administrator Peter Austin, McHenry County Coordinator Chalen Daigle and Police Social Work Program Director Sgt. Aimee Knop.

Multiple police social workers and a clinical supervisor are undergoing training to begin assisting police departments with mental health crises and connecting residents to resources.

Each police social worker will be assigned a grouping of participating police departments, allowing them to learn the nuances of each department and build relationships within the agencies.

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Police Social Workers and Clinical Supervisor Alana Bak | Provided Photo

From there, the police social workers will work to garner resources for citizens in need and help alleviate the toll of mental health-related calls for service, the sheriff’s office said.

Knop said the police social workers have already helped make an impact during their training.

“The Police Social Work Program shows how McHenry County is getting things right. Not only does it support our local law enforcement, but it does so in a shared, collaborative and fiscally responsible way. I am proud to see this program get off the ground, and I can’t wait to see the difference it will make in our community,” Buehler said.

In 2017, the sheriff’s office created a police social worker program to alleviate their office’s responses to mental health-related calls for service.

This program will expand the previously created program countywide.

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“Too often, law enforcement is the first contact for people in need of mental health services – people who need help,” Prim said in November.

Social workers will connect residents to resources, such as direct social service providers, and conduct follow-ups with cases and clients.

At least one social worker will be available to assist officers, 24 hours a day, for a phone consultation or direct response when major mental health crises arise.

The social workers are supervised by the clinical supervisor and program director, while the program is managed by an advisory council.

Funding comes from participating police departments, the county board and the mental health board.

Participating police agencies include the Algonquin, Fox River Grove, Bull Valley, Harvard, Cary, Johnsburg, Crystal Lake, Lakewood, Marengo, McCullom Lake, McHenry County College, McHenry County Conservation District, Oakwood Hills, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Woodstock police departments, in addition to the sheriff’s office.