How do we overcome the 3 challenges facing the children’s mental health legislation in Iowa?

1 in 5 children ages 5-18 have or will have serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill. Iowa has some great services, but it does not have a system for kids.

In 2005, I ran for office in Iowa to create a children’s mental health system. As a state representative, I regionalized the adult mental health system and to create core services for adults regardless of where they reside in Iowa.

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Children were not included in that original redesign.

14 years later, we are still having work groups about creating a system for kids. Director of the Department of Human Services, Jerry Foxhoven often says that he sat on a committee over 30 years ago about the same subject.

It’s about time we make progress.

In Iowa, there is no children’s county-based system to build upon. There is no permanent funding mechanism like the property tax levy. There are no regional employees who specialize in children. And there is no standard set of core services nor access standards to hold people accountable for providing services to all Iowa’s children.

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds created a state workgroup to create the children’s system. Finally.

Legislation has come from this group and is being considered. And yet, there are many miles to go before a final bill has been signed by the Governor. Here are 3 challenges facing the passage of this monumental legislation:

  • By relying on regional funding to set up the system, it’s an unfunded mandate.
  • By focusing on crisis services, the bill doesn’t “do enough for kids.”
  • By acknowledging mental health in schools, kids can be labeled.

Let’s look at each of these 3 challenges and information to assist in pushing back against these arguments.

Challenge 1: the unfunded mandate

Facts: Regions continue to have over $120 million dollars in ending balances. Now, it is true that some regions have more than others. It is also true that the two largest regions facing funding challenges already provide children’s services. And, many of the regions in financial trouble provide services above and beyond the prescribed core services. So yes, a long-term funding solution will be needed but no, it is not required to move ahead.

Challenge 2: the bill doesn’t do enough

Facts: The legislation focuses on setting up a state wide system and creates crisis services including a hotline. Parents and teachers report regularly that they do not know where to turn for assistance. Iowa has some great providers of services for children. However, not everyone knows they exist or how to access them. By starting with crisis services, we can get parents and teachers the information they need to get help.

Challenge 3: this policy will Label our children

Facts: According to the Department of Ed, suicide in Iowa is second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24. Avoiding the topic of mental health and suicide prevention has not improved this statistic. Early identification is key in getting proper help and treatment whether that is with your faith community, primary care or specialty provider. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away.

Is the children’s mental health bill all that I wanted it to be? No. But is it a place to start that we can build upon year after year? Absolutely. Let’s work together to get this legislation to the Governor’s desk this year!

Discussion Question:

Do you think it’s time that Iowa has a system for children’s mental health?