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Iowa's Children's Mental Health Care Crisis

Stacie Mitchell, Director of Clinical Services, LMHC RPT CCDP-D
a child at Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids

More than 1600 families are on Iowa’s children's mental health wavier waiting list. That means there are 1600 families who can’t access certain services they need in order to care for their children. For the past two years, Kim Jensen’s family has been one of those. She says it got really hard not having help caring for her daughter, Grace, who she and her husband adopted through the Iowa foster care system. “She was severely aggressive when she was 5 and 6 years old. She is little, but she is strong. After a while, we couldn’t find anyone to watch her. Someone had to be with her all the time.”

Grace, has been living in Quincy, Illinois for the past 2 years at a pediatric mental health care institution because Jensen couldn’t find anywhere to take her in Iowa. She's coming home in July, and Jensen and her husband have made the four hour drive to see Grace at least once a month since she’s been away from home. They consider themselves lucky. “I have friends who have had to send their children to New Mexico and North Carolina. We’re fortunate to have her so close.”

George Estle is CEO of Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids; the clinic provides mental health care services to children. He says that the reason families like the Jensens face these hurdles in getting help for their kids is due to legislative inaction when it comes to the children’s mental health system. Last year’s mental health care redesign didn’t address access issues for children, and this year, the Governor has yet to sign a bill to extend mental health care waivers to more parents who need them.

Even if Governor Branstad signs the bill that will extend waivers to more parents, Estle says issues with mental health care in Iowa extend beyond funding. “We’ve been trying to build capacity at Tanager since the 1980’s. Right now, we’re trying to hire another child psychiatrist, but we are having a hard time finding someone.”

This hour on Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Kim Jensen about what not having access to certain vital services has meant to her family. Then, Estle and Tammy Nyden, who is a member of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Iowa’s Children’s Mental Health Committee and Parents Creating Change for Iowa, join the conversation. 

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer