Advocates for families struggling with mental illness are applauding Gov. Kim Reynolds' signing Monday of an executive order to create a new state board overseeing childhood mental illness.
The Children’s Mental Health Board will make recommendations for a new statewide system for children who are not covered by the state program that serves adults with mental illness.
Activists say the new program is long overdue.
“Ever since the reorganization of mental health services for adults in Iowa six years ago, what to do about the kids has been on the table,” said Peggy Huppert, Executive Director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “There is still no system, no plan, no accountability and little funding.”
Advocates say a shortage of child psychiatrists and inpatient services has plagued Iowa families, many of whom have seen teenagers take their own lives.
Earlier this year, the governor signed two mental health bills.
One bill mandates suicide prevention training in Iowa schools. The other fills in the gaps in Iowa’s statewide system of mental health care for adults.
“As I said in my Condition of the State address, to improve Iowa’s mental health system, we must identify the gaps,” Gov. Reynolds said. “The lack of a coordinated children’s mental health system is a significant gap.”
Advocates say Iowa families have to travel out of state to find inpatient care for their severely troubled children.
“The pain of parents desperately trying to advocate for their children knowing they have a life-threatening condition should be felt and absorbed by all of us,” Huppert said. “Not addressing the needs of children with serious emotional disorders usually has lifelong consequences.”
Children across the state are currently receiving psychiatric services through telemedicine from psychiatrists based in Iowa City.
The governor will appoint the new Children’s Mental Health Board by the end of the year.
Initially, the board will develop and recommend specific steps to build an “integrated, well-coordinated and sustainable children’s mental health system.” Long-term, the board will provide oversight and technical assistance.
Reynolds declined to answer questions about long-term funding.
“It will, at some point, I’m sure, require new money,” Reynolds said. “But sometimes to get started there are additional resources that can be reallocated.”