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MENTAL HEALTH: Center Proposed For Children

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The Board of Regents is considering a measure that could have a major influence on the way Iowa children receive mental health services.

The University of Iowa is looking to establish a center dedicated to improving the state’s disability and mental health system. This effort could make a big difference in the way services are provided.

This concept operates under the assumption that you can intervene in these children’s lives at an early age and make a difference — meeting the needs of all the nearly 70,000 children in the state that currently battle some level of emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges.

Kim Jensen of Cedar Falls is looking for answers for her 11-year-old daughter, who is battling a severe mental illness called reactive attachment disorder

“She kicks, screams, bites, I’ve had to call police,” says Jensen.

Jensen has dealt with the frustration of searching for effective treatment.

“It’s extremely frustrating that you have a child that you can’t figure out how to help,” she says.

Some ten-thousand families in Iowa share the same feelings. A recent study estimates that’s the number of kids whose mental health needs are unmet.

“Think we could do so much better about having wrap around services available for these children and having team meetings where everybody is invited to the table,” says Jensen.

As part of the state’s overall mental health redesign, a new idea looks to better coordinate services across the state.

“We want children to ultimately reach their optimal potential,” says Dr. Debra Waldron, Vice Chair for Child Health Policy

The University of Iowa is looking to create the Center for Child Health Improvement and Innovation.

The new center would create a team in charge of developing and implementing guidelines for treating kids battling mental illness in all 99 counties.

The group would also provide technical assistance in training community providers.

“We need to make it the norm that emotional, behavioral, and mental health services are well-coordinated with the rest of the health care so there are now barriers,” says Waldron.

The hope is a new system can finally get the results families like the Jensen’s have been so desperately searching for.

“If you’re not working with them in their childhood until they turn 18, then you lose control,” says Jensen.