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Children's mental health services have been set aside (again) as legislators try to figure out how to patch the holes in the adult mental health and disability services.  Several members of the Children's Mental Health & Well Being Task Force presented to a joint budget committee on the need to get started on a comprehensive approach to children's mental health.  

Representatives of the work group said they need local leadership and statewide standards.  "If we don’t have that, we’ll have the same scattered system that we have now," said one member, who asked for at least $700,000 to start to build out the system.  

Currently one in five Iowa children have a mental illness, and over 80% of adult mental illnesses develop first during childhood.  That statistic caught Rep. John Forbes' attention immediately.  "It seems to me we're missing the boat here," said Forbes. "We need to really invest our dollars in these early childhood years to mitigate the problems when we get to adulthood.  We’ll save millions, if not billions, of dollars."  Rep. Forbes went on to say he hoped the Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee could look for ways to make sure we can treat children earlier, rather than waiting for them to become adults and costing the health care system much more.
Rep. Lisa Heddens added that there are only 31 children’s psychiatrists statewide, causing access issues as well.  Sen. Joe Bolkcom asked if the MH/DS regions should be required to coordinate children's mental health services.  The answer - it's better than nothing, but that's not the vision of the work group.  The work group vision was built around systems of care that pull in everyone that has a part in a child's life, not just address mental health issues separately.   

NAMI Greater Des Moines spokesperson Teresa Bomhoff, who serves as chair of the state's Mental Health Planning Council, didn't mince her words when she presented the Council's plans to address children's mental health needs.

Bomhoff acknowledged much has been done to develop a statewide MH/DS system, "but it still seems like we're nibbling around the edges."  She cited several disturbing statistics:

  • Girls have reached all time high in suicide rates, doubling between 2007 and 2015.
  • Suicide rates among teen boys and young men rose 30% .
  • Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens in Iowa.

“This year, right now, in this legislative session, you could do four things to make a statewide mental health system for children," urged Bomhoff.  She outlined five steps that need to be taken:

  • Step 1 - Update the Iowa law by requiring mental health services be available to Iowa children.  As activist Tammy Nyden says, “when kids are not written in, you are writing kids off.”
  • Step 2:  Include the children's mental health core services recommended by the work group in that update of the law.
  • Step 3: Move the MH/DS division from DHS to the Iowa Department of Public Health, so the focus is on prevention and early intervention.  “DHS is a mega agency, with mega dollars, that is struggling to get things done,” said Bomhoff.
  • Step 4: Identify new funding streams to pay for this.  She suggested increasing Iowa's sales tax and devoting 5/8 of a penny to adult and children's mental health services.  She said estimates that would bring in about $280 million, enough to pay for children and take adult services off the backs of property taxpayers.  "You might just make Farm Bureau happy," said Bomhoff referring to the farming group's opposition to having mental health and disability services funded by local property taxes.

Bomhoff then went down the reasons she's heard to not find a permanent funding source for these services, and not move forward in developing a children's mental health system.  To each she said, "I call BS."  No words minced. At all.  

You can see the detailed work group recommendations here. You can see Teresa's handouts here.