Guest Columnist

Legislature approved historic children's mental health bill

Gov. Kim Reynolds (white jacket) signed a bill into law at the state Capitol building in Des Moines Wednesday that creates and funds the state’s first-of-its-kind comprehensive children's mental health system. Photo by Rod Boshart
Gov. Kim Reynolds (white jacket) signed a bill into law at the state Capitol building in Des Moines Wednesday that creates and funds the state’s first-of-its-kind comprehensive children's mental health system. Photo by Rod Boshart

We have all seen the heartbreaking news stories where a young person has taken their own life due to depression, bullying, or other mental illness. Many of us have been directly affected by something of this nature. Teen suicide and mental illness are issues that plague not only Iowa families, but our communities as well.

Unfortunately, it has become all too common that a parent recognizes that their child is suffering from mental illness but struggles to find an on-ramp into the system and access treatment.

That is why this year state lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds worked across the aisle to pass a historic children’s mental health legislative package that will ensure parents have a place to turn to. As a licensed independent social worker, I was especially proud to be the floor manager for House File 690.

The legislation was developed based on recommendations from mental health providers, educators, parents and advocates with a focus on local access and care coordination of mental health services for children.

The bill creates the structural framework for a children’s mental health system, with a state board to advise Iowa’s mental health regions. Each region will have a Children’s Services Coordinator who will focus solely on the development of children’s mental health services in that area. This will ensure that children are able to able to access things like crisis services, inpatient treatment, and outpatient therapy closer to home and near their families.

I also serve as chairman of the Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee, which made funding children’s mental health a priority.

The Legislature provided a significant state investment to eliminate a list of about 1,000 children waiting to access the Children’s Mental Health Home and Community Based Services Waiver. We also funded a statewide 24-hour crisis hotline for all ages as well as new psychiatric residencies to bring providers to rural communities. We invested $1.2 million to provide mental health awareness training for educators and schools and $750,000 to develop additional ways for schools to meet mental health needs and strengthen community supports for students.

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Parents should always have a place to turn when seeking treatment for their child. This year’s legislation was a big step forward and builds the foundation for future advancements.

• Republican state Rep. Joel Fry of Osceola chairs the House Health and Human Services Appropriation Subcommittee.

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