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Parents of Mentally Ill Children Rally Iowa Capitol

Sarah Boden/Iowa Public Radio
Parents of children with severe mental health issues who could not attend the rally asked to be represented with stuffed animals.

Advocates and parents of children with severe mental health issues rallied in Iowa’s Capitol Rotunda today, for the release of funding from the Iowa Department of Human Services. 

They say $6 million earmarked for services like respite care and therapy hasn’t been distributed. As a result, parents say the wait time for these services has ballooned to more than two years.

During the last legislative session parents like Tammy Nyden of Iowa City successfully lobbied for funding increases which would expand the availability of seven types of Medicaid waivers, including the Children’s Mental Health Waiver. 

Nyden says despite this success, her 12-year son Cole has yet to receive services. Cole is diagnosed with Asperger's and Tourette syndrome, as well as an anxiety and mood disorder.

"He's been on the waiting list now for two years," Nyden says. "During that time he’s been hospitalized twice, and spent 9 months in a…psychiatric mental institution for children. All of those could have been avoided if he had the waiver two years ago when he started to be suicidal at age 10."

Alissa Tschetter-Siedschlaw has an adult daughter with mental illness and works as a specialist for Youth Emergency Services and Shelter in Des Moines. Tschetter-Siedschlaw says she’s frustrated by the lack of options available to families.

"They are living in crisis all the time with children with schizophrenia and...other emotional disturbances, and are frustrated fighting a system begging for help," Tschetter-Siedschlaw says.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy says releasing all the funding at once would create a large influx of clients that would overwhelm providers. The department says it will make funding available as capacity increases. 

McCoy says DHS will start adding spots for the Children's Mental Health Waivers in the next few weeks, and that funding for all seven of the waiver programs will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Other waiver programs include Elderly, Health and Disability, Brain Injury and HIV/AIDS.  

As of last month, the number of individuals on waitlists for all waiver programs total 9,289 people. The $6 million funds only an additional 1,176 waivers.