Mental Health Bills Lay Foundation For Children’s Success

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds upheld one of Iowa’s strongest values: caring for our children.

By introducing Senate Study Bill 1197 and House Study Bill 206, Gov. Kim Reynolds offered Iowa the opportunity to establish the governance structure to implement core mental health services for children and families uniformly across Iowa. After decades of discussion and growing public support, these two bills take a huge step toward establishing a children’s mental health system.

The Coalition to Advance Mental Health in Iowa for Kids (CAMHI4Kids), a group founded by and led by the Iowa Hospital Association that more than 50 organizations have signed on to support, commends Reynolds for presenting these policy bills.

Just like building a house requires a sturdy foundation, these bills are an important first step toward creating a structure for children’s mental well-being. In particular, CAMHI4Kids appreciates that these bills establish a voice and a seat for children and families at a regional level, using a system that is already in place.

The bills also outline core services that should be available to all children and families regardless of location and recognize that the mental health needs of children are different than those of adults. In addition to providing a basic structure for how decisions about children’s mental health should be made and who is responsible for building Iowa’s system, the bills include a process for monitoring outcomes and ensure accountability for services across the state.

These important steps would finally sew together a patchwork of care that families currently must navigate with little direction. If a child is hurt on the playground, a caregiver knows to follow a clear path of care to help that child recover. But for a caregiver who is concerned about a child’s mental health, they often don’t know where to turn for help and must seek out services that might not exist in their community.

In Iowa, 80,000 children have a diagnosed Serious Emotional Disturbance. About half of children ages 14 and older with mental illness drop out of high school and 70 percent of youth in Iowa’s juvenile justice system have a mental illness, according to Iowa ACEs 360.

A children’s mental health system will foster mental well-being earlier in a child’s life, before he or she reaches this stage of crisis and intensive care. Early intervention through a two-generation approach (serving the child and the family) has shown significant long-term improvements in children’s mental health and better equips parents to raise healthy, successful children. In addition, these bills move our state forward in recognizing that mental well-being begins at birth and is fostered through social, emotional, and cognitive development throughout a child’s life.

The system proposed by Gov. Reynolds is vital to the future economic prosperity of our state as children today become our future workforce and our future taxpaying citizens.

Gov. Reynolds’ two bills are a solid first step in what we hope is an effort that continues over the next several years. We look forward to the Iowa Legislature taking another step this spring by appropriating the funding to support this structure and develop the core services needed across our state. Funding will be crucial to making sure the structure and services can be built.

This week has brought forward conversations our state has needed to have for decades. We are proud that Iowa is working together in a bipartisan way to ensure that our kids have the best start for future success.