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Parents Of Suicide Victims, Educators, And Others Convene New Board On Children’s Mental Health

Joyce Russell/IPR
Members of newly-formed Children's System State Board meeting in West Des Moines. Mary Neubauer and John Parmeter have each lost a child to suicide.

A new state board held its inaugural meeting today charged with developing a statewide system for children’s mental health.   The Children’s State Board made up of educators, law enforcement, human services officials, and others is the result of an executive order earlier this year from Gov. Reynolds. 

Communities across the state are plagued with a shortage of crisis care, child psychiatrists, and psychiatric hospital beds for kids.  

"We're dealing with human beings and we gotta get moving." - Jeff Herzberg, Prairie Lakes AEA

The new board may take as long as five years to develop a plan like the one approved this year for adult mental health.     

A new state law requires suicide prevention training for Iowa educators.   But board member Jeff Herzberg at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency says for serious childlhood mental illness, rural schools need crisis teams nearby.  

“They don't come very quickly from Cedar Rapids to Pocahontas,” Herzberg said.   “We're dealing with human beings and we gotta get moving.”

Herzberg says he received 35 detailed responses from school administrators in his region about what they need. 

"We need to hear from the kids." - Andrew Allen, Youth and Shelter Services

“I'm talking about school districts that are in crisis because of one child or two children in their buildings or districts that are dealing with serious issues that in rural Iowa we do not have services,” Herzberg said.

The new board is at least the fourth panel convened to study the issue over the years.    

In addition to serving on the new board, John Parmeter chairs Iowa’s Mental Health and Disability Services Commission. 

“If we're talking about us recreating that wheel again, then my concern is we're never going to get down to the work of doing it, of funding services that will save kids,” Parmeter said.   

"We need money to make it work." - Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City)

Parmeter is one of at least two board members who have lost children to suicide.   A third board member has a child in a psychiatric facility.

Parmeter said children’s mental health has been under discussion for ten years. 

Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven says it goes back further than that.

“About 40 years ago I sat on a …work group for the state, where the issue is we don't have a children’s  mental health system,” Foxhoven said.   “Forty years later we're finally at the table saying let's create a children’s mental health system.”

Board member Andrew Allen of Youth and Shelter Services said children should be represented on the board.  

"We need to hear from the kids," Allen said.  

The board will make recommendations to the legislature by November 15th.