Getting Access To Children’s Mental Health Services

The nonprofit Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) released a report on Monday that praised the state for having “one of the country’s most extensive arrays of children’s mental health evidence-based practices delivered in home and community settings.” Building a system of quality mental health care services for Connecticut’s children has taken the commitment and significant investments of both the public and private sectors. The only problem is that most of the children of the state cannot get access to those services.

The CHDI concludes from its projections based on national statistics that 20 percent, or 160,000, of Connecticut’s children are facing mental health challenges. Of that number just 20 percent — one in five — have access to the services they need. That means there are more that 125,000 children in the state with mental health problems who are either undertreated, or, more likely, not treated at all. And it is not just poor kids who are not getting the services they need. The state’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Patricia Rehmer noted last month that people with private insurance are often surprised and disappointed to discover that many mental health services that are routinely available to Medicaid recipients are not covered by their health insurers.

Commissioner Rehmer joined the state’s Deputy Insurance Commission Anne Melissa Dowling last week in expressing frustration to state lawmakers over the long wait for federal regulations governing the mental health parity act, which requires health insurance companies to treat mental health coverages and treatment authorizations as they would medical services. They urged legislators to speed the process by creating a set of state regulations to address the confusion over mental health parity and the insurance companies’ concomitant reluctance to extend existing limits on treatments and services. In a letter to the governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, which has been studying mental health, gun violence, and school security in the wake of the massacre at the Sandy Hook School, the two commissioners urged the panel to address not only mental health, but access to it, by recommending the needed state parity regulations.

In the eight months since 12/14, Newtown has been given special status when it comes to addressing mental health issues. Resources and services have flowed into the community thanks to grants and volunteers. The Town of Newtown even retained its own mental health advisor with the help of a grant from Praxair, Inc of Danbury. These resources supplemented an excellent system of public and private mental health services already available locally. Appropriate assessment and care for the children of Newtown is probably more available and responsive now than it ever has been.

The people of Newtown, however, do not expect nor want to linger forever as a special case dependent on the compassion and considerations of others. We are also mindful that the children of this community are not the only ones in need. State and federal lawmakers, public agencies, and private insurers need to act now so that appropriate and timely mental health care is accessible to all the children who need it.

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