Late last year, Savannah Gilliland became the Town of Hillsborough’s first social diversion worker, collaborating with the police department to bridge the gap between the criminal justice system and mental health resources.
Gilliland, one of the social diversion workers in Orange County law enforcement agencies, is a part of the County's Community Care and Diversion Response team.
Gilliland started her career in child protective services in Alamance County and soon after became a foster care social worker in Granville County.She said she heard about police social workers in other states, but she didn’t think there would be an opportunity in North Carolina for a while. When she saw the Hillsborough position online, she was excited to apply.
In her role as a diversion social worker, Gilliland said she gets referrals from court stakeholders and law enforcement officers for members of the community who are suffering from severe mental illness. She said she works to make sure they have the resources they need.
“It could be getting clients to and from therapy appointments, going to management appointments, getting them to court,” she said. “It may be visiting a client at the jail. It may be driving around the community or even walking through downtown in our communities to find our clients and meet them where they're at.”
The care and diversion response team Gilliland works on is a grant-funded partnership through the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department that works to redirect individuals with serious mental illnesses away from the criminal legal system and toward treatment.
“The goal of the team is to reduce law enforcement interaction, to divert people from the criminal legal system into more appropriate types of care for their needs, and continue to work with them on an ongoing basis,” Caitlin Fenhagen, the criminal justice resource department's director said.
Ashley Machado, the Community Care and Diversion Response team’s mental health diversion coordinator, said Gilliland’s compassion, previous experience in social work and her desire to learn and grow make her a valued member of the team.
“Because of [Gilliland's] ability to engage with others and her bubbliness, she's able to develop these important relationships in the community and that allows for people like law enforcement agencies to reach out to her when there are people in the community that need her services,” Machado said.