Concerns raised regarding plan for state’s children’s mental health system board

DES MOINES — Advocates say the state has failed to adequately address a lack of children’s mental health care services in Iowa.

Kayla Powell was in the foster care system as a child and, as an adult, has become an advocate for children.  “The Iowa Children’s Behavioral Health System and the Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board were created by bipartisan legislation in 2019,” Powell says. “Four years later, Iowa does not yet have a children’s behavioral health system in the way this law intended.”

Powell spoke at a statehouse hearing on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Iowa. She outlined the group’s objection to a plan that would merge the state board created to oversee a children’s mental health system with some other state board, which hasn’t been named.  “We at NAMI Iowa ask that any changes to this board do not dilute or dissolve the expertise, pediatric focus and lived experience on the board,” Powell said, “or limit its authority and hold the state accountable to its own goals for children’s mental health.”

Powell says youth suicide has reached crisis levels and now is not the time to dial back the state’s focus.  “Kids are waiting months to see a therapist and longer for intensive treatment,” she says. “The Children’s Board was established so children would have a separate and unique path through Iowa’s extremely complex behavioral health landscape…Those core services are still seriously lacking in scope, implementation and effectiveness across the state. This leaves serious  and, indeed, life threatening gaps in care.”

The Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board is one of dozens of state boards included on an initial list for elimination or merger with another board in state government. A review committee will develop its final set of recommendations by the end of the month, then lawmakers will decide whether to follow through on the plan next year.