Reviewing Iowa's Current Mental Health Support System for Children

Reviewing Iowa's Current Mental Health Support System for Children

Last year, a Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being Workgroup was created in response to direction from the Iowa Legislature – its purpose was to review and make recommendations on the current support system to Iowa’s children and families.  The Central Iowa Workgroup was led by Orchard Place, and it developed a proposed mental health crisis response system for local children.

Through its research on Polk, Warren, and Dallas Counties, the group reported extensive differences in the school populations of each county.  For example:

Polk County: Population is 467,711; under the age of 18 is 25.2%; persons in poverty 11.9%; population per square mile in 2010 was 750.5; 37.8% students are non-white

Warren County: Population is 48,626; under the age of 18 is 25%; persons in poverty 7.8%; population per square mile in 2010 was 81.1; 9.4% students are non-white

Dallas County: Population is 80,133; under the age of 18 is 28.4%; persons in poverty 5.3%; population per square mile in 2010 was 112.4; 19.5% students are non-white

In the Des Moines and Perry school districts, more than 75% of students are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch, meaning that 3 of 4 students are “food insecure” – without access to adequate food.  These conditions have a substantial impact of the long-term mental health and well-being of both children and adults – creating many behavioral issues in students and severely limiting their ability to learn, develop, and succeed in school.

The Workgroups throughout the state are gathering information on what services exist, who is providing them, how are children and families using them, and what gaps exist.  Not only did the Central Iowa group find that there are an overabundance of gaps, but they learned there are only 65 mental health specialist FTEs serving the entire state.

The Central Iowa workgroup has narrowed its study earlier this year, and plans to develop recommendations for service  improvement in the following 3 areas:

  1. A 24/7 telephone crisis line to respond to children and families
  2. A new Pediatric Mobile Crisis Response Team
  3. A physical location to center crisis stabilization

The long-term costs of children’s mental  health can be curbed through prevention, early identification, and early intervention, which are specific areas of focus for Chrysalis After-School and our Women’s Alliance.  We’ve learned that a supportive environment and involvement in girls’ and women’s lives can have a tremendous impact on their futures.  This is why we require our after-school facilitators and grantee organizations to attend a range of educational and training opportunities throughout the year, to better prepare them to serve the complex needs of girls and women.  Preventing traumas and stressors are  markedly less expensive than providing treatment and recovery – the best investments we can make.