Public’s Views Sought On Mental Health Care For Kids In Connecticut

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.”

Susan Graham, family system manager for FAVOR Inc., a nonprofit group that serves children with a broad spectrum of behavioral and mental health needs and their families, said that too often parents are frustrated when they try to find the right services for a child.

“Often it’s so difficult to get services that children have to get arrested because the juvenile justice system [provides] the quickest access to services,” Graham said, “and it starts young people down a very poor path.”

Bob Franks, vice president of the Child Health and Development Institute, said it is very important for child welfare, juvenile justice, schools and other agencies to work together to create “a strong and robust network of care, so that no child will fall through the cracks.”

Katz called the effort “a new opportunity to move the children’s behavioral health system forward and one that we must take full advantage of. … All eyes in Connecticut are upon us” as are “many eyes elsewhere in the country.”

“We look to turn the haunting questions surrounding Newtown into answers for our children and our children’s future,” Katz said. “There is no escaping that the tragedy in Newtown serves as a context for what we are about to do.”

The law requires that the plan meet the mental, emotional and behavioral health needs of all children in the state — not just those in DCF custody — and offer guidance on how to prevent or reduce any long-term negative effects.

The public forums, which will be held through August, are intended to gather input on such topics as the availability of mental health services; early identification of children with emotional or mental problems; prevention and intervention; juvenile justice and mental health; and crisis response and management.

The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut will organize the forums for DCF and collect and analyze data from them.

In September, a draft of DCF’s plan will be reviewed and revised. The plan will be made public in October and is expected to be a work in progress that will be expanded and refined in future years.

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