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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005 10:29 pm

Mind matters

State mental health programs target juveniles

The Illinois Collaboration on Youth and Youth Network Council, along with members of the state’s congressional delegation, announced last week a new program to expand mental health services to children in danger of becoming repeat juvenile offenders. This, plus key moves made by the governor’s office this year, has moved forward the dialogue on childhood mental health in Illinois. Earlier this year, Gov. Rod Blagojevich expanded state services to at-risk children and their families by increasing enrollment in KidCare and FamilyCare, paid by the state Children’s Health Insurance Program. In June, Blagojevich increased mental health services for children in custody of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services. U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-IL, recently announced a $1.2 million renewable federal grant to community-based youth service organizations in Illinois to halt the cycle of juvenile delinquency by expanding mental health services. Roughly 1,900 youth offenders were on parole in Illinois last year, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections. Many believe that lack of access to adequate mental health care outside of the state correctional system—which spends more money per capita for juvenile facilities than adult centers—is the key factor determining whether a child will re-offend, which happens almost 50 percent of the time in Illinois. If ignored, mental health problems can spill over into his personal relationships and the community, possibly leading him to act out or repeat self-destructive behavior, says C. Gary Leofanti, president of the ICOY/YNC collaborative overseeing the pilot project. The initiative will enable the 22 agencies that will execute the plan  (mostly community health clinics and not-for-profit organizations) to address the mental health needs of juvenile offenders by providing diagnosis, counseling, crisis intervention, and assessment services. In many, cases, these agencies also provide educational programs and career services. Daniel M. Potter, who co-chairs the mental services task force of the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says that poor people in general have more difficulty obtaining mental health services, the result he says, of “our culture not valuing mental health.”
The National Institute of Mental Health found this summer that half of all lifelong cases of mental illness begin by age 14. (The average age of Illinois child offenders is 17.) The study found that the earlier a mental health condition begins, and the slower they receive care, the more severe the illness is likely to become. The study also revealed that an untreated mental disorder can cause the emergence of other illnesses. Potter fears that access to mental health services could endanger agencies like those working with juvenile parolees under a new payment restructuring plan currently underway. The plan moves Illinois mental health providers from an up-front reimbursement system to fee-for-service.
“Many teen MH needs are found in the process of finding out other issues,” Potter says. But a glaring problem with the reimbursement restructuring plan, he adds, is that many youth-centered organizations providing mental health services are not traditional fee-for-service entities in the way that neighborhood clinics are, so their programs might not be reimbursable by the state.
Now, Potter says, these “agencies are in a position to struggle to figure out how to provide services with less money.”
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