ROUND ROCK, Texas — Round Rock residents, Boseme and Charmaine Esunju, are on the front lines of what the U.S. surgeon general calls an “urgent childhood mental health crisis”.
“It’s more than just a full-time job because it’s all day, you really don’t get a break because he doesn’t,” Boseme said.
Since the pandemic started, finding answers to pivotal care questions for their 14-year-old son, Brayden, who is autistic, has been nearly impossible. They deal with long lines of never-ending wait lists.
“When you’re a parent and you need help now and this is the only place you can reach out to, then it’s really disheartening because you don’t know what to do,” Charmaine said.
Mental Health America ranks Texas last in accessibility to this type of care. Kristen Pierce-Vreeke, Executive Director of the Austin Child Guidance Center, believes this is in part because of the state and region choosing a reactive and not proactive approach.
“I think prevention and resources to help these kids so we can address these issues before they become tragedies or more problematic is really important,” Pierce-Vreeke said. “I think Central Texas could. We’d really like it if they would do more to help us serve more folks.”
For this family of three growing boys, there are several hurdles to jump over daily. Foremost, the yellow tape of the health care system, where insurance issues and a lack of funding are constant themes.
Then there’s the stigma of mental health in the community. Being both African-Americans and people of faith raising a child with autism spectrum disorder, there’s little to no conversation on this topic within their social groups.
“I just want to bring this out and say here we are, we’re not the only one,” Charmaine said. “Let’s get together on this and share because it’s going to be for the betterment of our kiddos.”
For the Esunju family, it’s a struggle but also a labor of love. Controlling what they can, while hoping help will soon be on the way.
“Me and Brayden are on a great journey, moving forward,” Charmaine said.
You can support children’s mental health in Central Texas by coming out to the ACGC Family Fest and Austin Originals benefit concert on April 2 at the Circuit of the Americas. All proceeds benefit Austin Child Guidance Center. Visit austinchildguidance.org for tickets.