On September 22, the Legislature’s Children’s Behavioral Health Oversight Committee held a hearing and listened to testimony from parents of children with unmet behavioral health needs. The stories were heartbreaking. Many told of the support they received from peer mentors. However, several of the family organizations that provide this service testified that they may have to close their doors due to budget cuts and because their funding from a state contractor under the child welfare reform has not been renewed. Read more in an AP article on this issue.
In so many ways, the gaps in the system related to children’s behavioral health are on a collision course with the state’s fragile child welfare reform. Too many children with unaddressed behavioral health needs are pushed into the child welfare and juvenile court systems. That, in turn, puts more strain on the child welfare reform, which was premised on the notion of reducing the number of children in out-of-home care and increasing the support provided to families outside of the system.
The Legislature has some difficult decisions to make and there is widespread concern about the projected budget shortfall. However, at a time like this, it is even more imperative to make an investment up front to create an avenue for children to voluntarily access the behavioral health services they need, rather than continue to shift children into a more costly foster care system that is already hanging by a thread.