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Children's Mental Health Law Takes Effect; Months Of Planning Ahead

kim reynolds
Grant Gerlock
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the children's mental health bill into law on May 1.

A new Iowa law creating the framework for a statewide children’s mental health system went into effect July 1.  The system will still be in the planning stages for several months, so most families won't have access to new services yet.  

First, a new state board is being put together to oversee the children's system, and the mental health regions have to reconfigure their boards.

The regions also have to figure out what children's mental health services are already available, and then develop a plan by April 1 for developing additional services required by the new law.  

Lori Elam, CEO of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health Region, said there is a lot of work to do because the region was only focused on providing services for adults.

"So this is a very different world," Elam said. "And we have a very short timeframe in terms of gathering information on what's out there now, what's available, what are the gaps, and then matching it up with what code says."

Elam said the region is already extending some adult crisis services to youth. But it's not clear when all of the services listed in the children's mental health law will be available statewide.

Regions are still working on developing services for adults that were mandated by a 2018 law.

Peggy Huppert, who heads the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Iowa, said she is "cautiously optimistic" about the work ahead on children's mental health.

"People can't assume that just because a law passed everything is going to be fine," Huppert said. "That's not the case. We have to stay vigilant and we have to continue to work to make sure these things happen, and more."

Huppert said developing children's services will require new money. The Iowa Legislature didn't appropriate funds for the children's mental health system; it's supposed to be funded through property taxes and Medicaid.

Huppert said many advocates wanted to require more services earlier.

"But we're limited by funding and political reality," Huppert said. "We felt ultimately it was more important to get this policy into law than to demand too much up front and potentially lose it all."