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Iowa launches plan to better meet children’s mental health, other needs

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Right now in Iowa, it’s no sure bet that a child in need of mental health services is going to get them. Instead, access can depend on where his or her family happens to live. “There is no statewide system or network of care in place, and over the long term, we need to develop it because there are clear gaps,” explains Anne Gruenwald, president and CEO of Four Oaks, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit agency that provides a range of services for children in need.
“When you have those gaps, needs go unmet, or we have to rely on our adult system of care — and that’s not always a good fit.” Iowa appears to be taking some important first steps, thanks to the recommendations of a work group formed by the Legislature in 2015 and actions taken by lawmakers during their 2016 session.
Gruenwald is one of 30 members of the Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being Work Group (formed as the result of SF 505 in 2015); four Iowa legislators serve on it as well. Late last year, the group prioritized two areas for immediate state action: first, begin to make mental-health crisis services available across the state; and second, create a handful of “child well-being labs” that can experiment with the best ways to address the multiple, complex needs of a single young person.
The Legislature included both of these priority areas in its larger health-and-human-services budget (HF 2460). Under that new law, two models of delivering crisis services will be developed: one for the eastern half of the state, another for the western portion.
The urgency of creating these two models, the work group concluded, reflects the serious consequences of not having trained professionals available to intervene in situations involving a mental health crisis. These cases cannot be handled by family, schools and the community alone, and without adequate help, young people in crisis can be a risk to themselves and others.
The goal in Iowa is to have a network of crisis-response providers available across the state to provide intensive, face-to-face services that help a young person return to a “baseline level of functioning.”
But sometimes mental illness is only one of a complex set of needs that must be addressed. A child may also be dealing with family problems, difficulties in school, homelessness or other issues.
The well-being labs will help the state explore new methods of case management that try to meet all of those needs in one setting, and that get the young person’s family involved in the
“We want to get kids to a point where they are stable in all aspects of their lives,” Gruenwald says.


This article was written as part of this year’s Midwestern Legislative Conference Chair’s Initiative of Wisconsin Rep. Joan Ballweg. This initiative is focused on state policies that strengthen families, improve opportunities for children, and yield better longer-term outcomes.