Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Increase Mental Health Care for Children

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Increase Mental Health Care for Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

In July of last year, a gunman, apparently mentally ill, burst into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and killed 12 people and maimed 58 others.

In December of last year, another gunman, also likely mentally ill, barged into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and slaughtered six adults and 20 children.

And the tally of that carnage, it seems, now has Florida lawmakers concerned about another dismal number.

Forty-nine.

That's where the state ranks in per-capita funding for mental health services. According to the Times-Union, mental health spending for the Department of Children and Families is at $726 million.

That's a $67 million drop since 2007.

"It's [the low ranking] a reflection of the lack of understanding of the critical needs of children and adults," said Jeff Goldhagen, chief of the Division of Community and Societal Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville.

LACK OF RESPECT

"It's a complete lack of respect and value we place on our children ... when you add to that the critical role that early brain development plays [in averting mental illness], there's a lot we can do to help adults and children on the front end," Goldhagen said.

But it looks like legislators may be listening now.

State Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, wants to consider some Baker Act reform that might enable facilities to hold a person for longer than 72 hours.

And Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she didn't remember mental health programs evaluating children in schools.

Rob Siedlecki, DCF's assistant secretary for mental and substance abuse, essentially told her that's because there are none.

That needs to change. And soon.

In Duval County, for example, of the 275,000 or so children younger than 18, 55,000 are living with a behavioral disorder, Goldhagen said. …

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