SPRINGFIELD — Governor JB Pritzker on Friday announced the launch of an initiative to improve behavioral and mental health services for children.
The Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative will help develop a coordinated response among six state agencies with the goal of supporting children with behavioral health needs while increasing the transparency of the process.
Under the direction of the Governor, the Departments of Social Services, Child and Family Services, Public Health, Health and Family Services, Juvenile Justice, and the National Board of education should participate in a task force aimed at improving support for children in need of behavioral health service benefits.
Dr. Dana Weiner, a Chapin Hall child protection expert at the University of Chicago, will serve as the initiative’s director. Weiner will work alongside members of the Pritzker administration to develop a plan by the end of the year for overhauling the state’s response to the behavioral and mental needs of children.
“Our current system is difficult to navigate and does not provide families with consistent and seamless solutions to the challenges they face,” Weiner said. “This uncertainty can threaten the health development of children and the integrity and stability of families.”
Michelle Trager, a mother of four, told how her eldest son, who is now 16 and lives in a residential facility in another state, has been in and out of the juvenile justice system due to significant health issues.
Trager said they adopted him when he was 14 months old and as he got older he increasingly struggled with emotional and behavioral issues that affected his daily life. For more than a decade, Trager sought interventions and referrals from professionals to help his son.
But she said it got to a point where her son’s behavior was disruptive and dangerous to himself and those around him. A full assessment was carried out which revealed the likelihood that her son had been exposed to alcohol before birth with a history of early childhood trauma.
By the time Trager was notified and required by the school district to seek residential treatment, none of the limited facilities were willing or able to accept him. Trager said when he was 14, his son spent 331 days in county custody and continuously harmed himself, resulting in multiple trips to the emergency room.
“Of 10 (visits), only once was the hospital able to secure admission to an inpatient psychiatric unit which returned him to custody after two weeks of ineffective treatment,” Trager said.
Her son was eventually transferred to the Juvenile Justice Department where they realized he needed treatment, not incarceration. Due to his son meeting his deadline at the DJJ, he was fired even though it was not deemed safe to return home.
With no Illinois State Police-approved facilities available for assistance, Trager said they had to find an out-of-state residential placement, but had to follow through. due process in court to send him to an out-of-state facility.
The six state agencies must follow a step-by-step process that reviews and examines whether children and their families are accessing behavioral health services in their community, schools, or through residential programs.
Agencies will examine the allocation of resources to meet the needs of existing programs, eligibility criteria for different levels of care, barriers to interagency coordination, and best practices from other child service systems across the country.
Rich Bobby said the nonprofit Little City facility where he serves as senior program director serves children and adults affected by autism, intellectual disabilities and other mental and behavioral health issues.
Bobby noted that the issues around the state’s behavioral health response date back more than a decade, but the pandemic has made it “incomprehensible to a point where families are at their wit’s end.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that emergency visits related to children’s mental health increased from March to October 2020. In Illinois, more than 100,000 students with disabilities receive social, psychological or of advice.
In the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, DHS would receive $50 million in federal funds for programs that address trauma, mental and behavioral health.
DHS and the five other state agencies would partner with community organizations to establish and support the new federal 988 crisis line and response services for people in mental health crisis.
The budget also includes $150 million for the full implementation of the Pathways to Success program for children with serious mental illnesses.
Pathways to Success is a DHS program for children under age 21 on Medicaid who have behavioral and mental health needs. The program provides access to an evidence-based model of critical care coordination and home and community services.
“Our children are our greatest treasure and none of them should fall through the cracks because of an outdated system that is too small and too slow to meet the breadth of their needs,” Pritzker said.
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