Mental Health Child Programs under Threat from Budget Ax

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Byline: KITTY PIERCY For The Register-Guard

THE 1999 SURGEON GENERAL'S report on mental health says, "Childhood is an important time to prevent mental disorders and to promote healthy development." The Lane County Commission on Children and Families believes that it is important to develop a comprehensive system of care for families that addresses mental health support, ranging from prevention through intensive treatment.

Recent improvements have strengthened the prevention and early intervention aspects of the social-service system. For instance, state-funded family resource centers, which are often based in schools, and the Community Safety Net, a program that identifies and assists at-risk children, are providing support to families that helps build on existing family strengths and community resources.

Unfortunately, state budget cuts threaten these programs and others, such as relief nurseries. We are concerned that without these early intervention programs, families may not be able to identify when they or their children begin to need help.

Nationally, approximately 22 percent of youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder; 5 percent can be diagnosed with a serious emotional or behavioral disorder. Lane County has developed a strong continuum of care for youth and families, with many high-quality service providers. Some families benefit by coordinated care across the service system, and these collaborations have improved over the past five years.

A parent recently described entering the mental health system as being like going into a new department store where you don't know where anything is. It can feel like a maze. Access to services is better for families who have private insurance or are covered by the Oregon Health Plan. It is very difficult for families without insurance. State funds for local child mental health services are limited.

Lane County's Department of Health and Human Services has been conducting a community planning process for mental health services, looking at gaps, priorities and recommendations for improvements. The following concerns have been identified:

Lane County does not have an inpatient hospital for children or adolescents. Out-of-area psychiatric hospitals are often full. Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital has long waiting lists and is reducing capacity.

Lane County does not have a secure, residential mental health treatment program for adolescents. Access to the nonsecure residential facilities is only through referral by child welfare or juvenile justice authorities.

Statewide residential resources have waiting lists of up to two years. Access to short-term assessment or crisis stabilization centers is available only through child welfare. …