“Let me be clear,” Malloy said. “No issue would rank higher in importance than this undertaking.”
Developing a plan that crosses agency lines to ensure that parents can get help for their children no matter where they reach out for assistanceis required under legislation passed last year following the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012.
A state police investigation found evidence that shooter Adam Lanza had serious mental health problems during his childhood but eventually stopped receiving any treatment.
The state Department of Children and Families is taking the lead on the plan, which is due in October, and will gather input from state and private agencies and the public.
“No question, the families and the children are the best experts on what they need and on what help would be most effective for them,” DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said.
She said “gaining full participation and involvement of families and children” will be at the center of the planning process.
Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, a key proponent of the legislation, said the law breaks “down the silos within and across our agencies and [establishes] a new framework upon which to base the way we treat mental health care for all children and families in the state of Connecticut.
“This braided system places the family at the center, with all services focused in on addressing and supporting the needs of the family,” Bartolomeo said.
Malloy said the number of young people taking their own lives or attempting to do so has become “an epidemic in our country.” When a child “goes home and ends their life, we missed something,” he said. “We missed a sign, an opportunity to reach out.”
DCF is working on the plan with the Child Health and Development Institute, a nonprofit group with expertise in children’s mental health, and has received contributions from several private nonprofit groups, including $ 75,000 from the Connecticut Health Foundation.
“This isn’t just about one community that was scarred in Connecticut,” said Patricia Baker, the health foundation’s CEO and president. “This is our chance to make sure that no one falls through the cracks, and particularly children of color don’t have to go to juvenile justice to get mental health services.”