When people discuss politics it’s often with derision. So we were optimistic, once again, to listen Tuesday as Gov. Kim Reynolds set out a largely positive and bipartisan agenda for state lawmakers. Key among her calls was the creation of a comprehensive children’s mental health system. We hope this is something all legislators will support and fund.
Since lawmakers were able to work together last session to improve adult mental health services, there is reason to be optimistic. After all, behavioral health issues do not discriminate on the basis of party affiliation or socio-economic class. Nearly every Iowa family has a story to tell, some unbearably heartbreaking.
“The job of government, above all else, is to provide for the health and safety of its citizens,” Reynolds told the joint assembly immediately after welcoming them to her second Condition of the State address.
Although Iowans — individuals and agencies — have worked to address children’s behavioral health problems, there has been no unified or organized thrust. To date, no level of government in the state is responsible for youth mental health, and public investment has suffered as a result. The situation has left parents in a lurch, unable to access proven treatments that would help their child. In some instances, even when help was found, the system was too overwhelmed to provide relief in a timely fashion.
Faced with teens experiencing episodes of violence, some parents have attended legislative forums to describe how they lock themselves into their own bedrooms. Others have documented long drives to doctor’s offices, lengthy stays in emergency rooms and other feelings of helplessness.
“We must create a children’s mental health system where the path to healing is clearly marked,” Reynolds said. “A system that lets parents know where to begin — and that their child can begin immediately.”
Reynolds will take recommendations from a task force she initiated last year to craft a bill for the Legislature. She’s also requesting an additional $3 million to better train teachers to recognize behavioral health issues, and wants more money for home- and community-based children’s services to address waiting lists.
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Reynolds cautioned lawmakers these are only first steps, that “creating a comprehensive children’s mental health system will take time.” It’s a clear signal the Governor’s Office isn’t reacting to a single headline or planning to push through a single bill, but rather focusing on a future of multiple changes for the betterment of Iowa families.
No doubt there will be ample opportunities along the way for derisive politics to emerge. But we are encouraged by Reynolds’ stated willingness to grasp the reins and be the state’s long-awaited champion on this issue.
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