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Children's Mental Health Plan Sent To Lawmakers

children's mental health board
Joyce Russell/IPR file
Members of Iowa's children's mental health board

An 18-member state board tasked with outlining a children’s mental health system for Iowa gave its final plan Thursday to the governor and lawmakers, who will have to work out legislation and funding to implement it.

The plan calls for mental health screenings for all kids, a statewide crisis hotline, and several types of youth mental health services to be rolled out over the next few years.

Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven said he is very optimistic this will become law in 2019. He added he’s not too concerned about funding, even though the plan calls for money from the legislature and from Medicaid.

“Part of that is because there’s been such a commitment from the governor and from both sides of the aisle that it’s worth putting money into it,” Foxhoven said. “And so they’ll have to come up with that funding.”

He didn’t say how much funding might be needed, but it will involve more money for the Medicaid managed care organizations to cover new behavioral health services.

The plan also includes workforce incentives to fix the shortage of children’s mental health professionals.

Past attempts to start a children’s mental health system have failed. But some see lawmakers’ unanimous passage of adult mental health legislation earlier this year as a good sign.

Peggy Huppert, who leads a mental health advocacy group in Iowa, said she’s happy with the plan. She also sits on the children’s system board and thinks it needs to become permanent so board members can hold lawmakers accountable in making the plan happen.

“This better be in the governor’s budget, or we’ll have a real uphill battle,” Huppert said.

The governor’s budget priorities will be released in January.

Huppert added she’s optimistic for now because the governor and many lawmakers campaigned on improving mental health care in the state.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she’s committed to “starting the process” of creating a children’s mental health system in Iowa.

“It’s not going to be perfect, but hopefully we can start the process and start to eliminate one of the biggest barriers in the mental health system that we have right now,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds has been hearing budget requests from state agencies and will know in December how much money she’ll have to work with in her budget.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter