Finally! On May 1, the Governor signed the bill creating a children’s mental health system in Iowa. Many people have worked tirelessly over decades to get to this point.

children's mental health

What does it mean to finally have a system in Iowa for kids? The legislation did 5 major things.

1. It created a statewide governing board to provide guidance on the implementation and management of the new children’s system

This may not seem like a big deal. But what this action does is brings all the state departments that deal with children including education, human services, public health and juvenile justice to the table to collaborate. Also, it creates an oversight structure to make sure system is built.

2. The law instructed regions who have traditionally served adults, to hire a children’s coordinator within each region.

This action forces each region to bring a child specialist in to be the point person for development and implementation of services in each region. As core services are developed, the coordinator will be the front line for access.

3. The bill created a baseline set of core crisis services including, but not limited to the following:

    • prevention, early identification, early intervention and education
    • assessment and evaluation,
    • medication prescribing and management
    • behavioral health outpatient therapy
    • comprehensive facility and community-based crisis services including:
      1. mobile response
      2. crisis stabilization community-based services
      3. crisis stabilization residential services
      4. behavioral health impatient treatment, and
      5. a statewide twenty-four-hour hotline

This is a major win for children’s services. Because these and other services are listed in core, the regions will be held responsible to submit a plan that implements these services throughout the state so that all children will have access to them. Rules will be developed to create standards of time and distance within which services will need to be developed.

4. The language also changed the regional board structures in order to add children’s specialists to each regional governing board

Since most regions have only been used for adult services to this point, it is imperative that voices for children are added to the governing body in each area. The bill adds a child specialty provider, educator and parent representative to the governing boards across the state. Also, it creates new regional advisory boards to gather info to communicate to the governing body.

5. Finally, the legislation provides the ability to collect data on children’s needs in Iowa

Believe it or not, we as a state have not been collecting information about children’s mental health needs in Iowa. Schools gather information on children who have behavioral challenges or who have individual education plans, but they do not monitor those with mental health needs. This has been challenging as persons age out of high school into the adult system. The hand off between school and the adult system has been less than ideal. By combining the children’s and adult system, this transition will improve.

Does this bill do everything that we hoped it would do? No. But it is a necessary first step. We could create the greatest services in the world, but without a structure to guarantee children have access, kids would continue to fall through the cracks.

This new system creates a firm foundation on which to build on. I for one am grateful!

Discussion Question:

What would you like to see in a children’s system as we build it? Tell me in the comments below or on social media!