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‘We Need a Kick in the Butt,’ Advocate Says of New Effort to Help Iowa Children’s Mental Health Needs

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Peggy Huppert could see two different perspectives as she stood two feet from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on Monday morning for the announcement of a new effort to help children with mental illnesses. One view came as the executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health. The other came as a mother of two daughters with mental health challenges.

"My youngest daughter was diagnosed (with a mental illness) at age eight," Huppert said. "That's when she first started going to therapy. She's been through a lot."

Her other daughter has, too. Huppert knows children with mental illnesses often go undiagnosed, which leads to years of suffering and potentially even more serious challenges as adults.

"I don't really think a lot of people can really get it unless they have been through it," Huppert said. "But, unfortunately, it's a pretty large club."

Huppert says families struggle finding appropriate care in Iowa and sometimes have to send children out of state, which is not only expensive, but also more difficult on children since it takes them away from their local support system.

On Monday morning, Governor Reynolds signed an executive order that establishes a Children's Mental Health Board to look for solutions.

Executive Order No. 2

The board will be made up of professionals from health care, education, mental health advocacy, the court system and lawmakers and will be charged with creating a mental health system for children by November 15th.

The governor acknowledged that more funding could be needed, depending on the board's recommendation but said short-term, "Sometimes there's existing resources that can be reallocated."

Huppert wants to make sure lawmakers properly fund Medicaid, which provides mental health care. But she feels that the new board will bring important changes.

"It's a significant step," she said, "We need a kick in the butt to move this thing forward."

And she wants to be part of the effort to make sure that happens.