Advocates for children seek better mental health services
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Advocates for improving the state’s fragmented behavioral health system for children on Thursday highlighted recent successes and hopes for the future.
The New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative hosted a policy luncheon for lawmakers to review two pending bills it has championed this session. One would allow schools to seek additional reimbursement for providing mental health services to students, while the other would require the state to establish a Medicaid program specifically to provide home- and community-based behavioral health services for children with severe emotional disturbances.
Such efforts are key to ensuring that children get “the right kind of care, at the right time and in the right place,” said Kim Firth, a program director at the Endowment for Health, one of more than 50 organizations that belong to the collaborative.
Erica Ungarelli is the director of the state’s Bureau for Children’s Behavioral Health, which was created a year ago. She described a federal grant-funded program called Fast Forward, which serves 46 children, and said passage of the pending legislation would allow the program to serve closer to 100.
The program includes teams that develop and implement individual plans for families, peer support, respite care and funding for transportation and other expenses that could be barriers to treatment. So far, children and families have reported being satisfied with the program, and spending on repeated hospitalizations has decreased, Ungarelli said.
The mother of one participant called the program a life-saver. She described multiple trips to the emergency room with her 12-year-old daughter, two stays at the state psychiatric hospital and violent outbursts brought on by anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other diagnoses.
After a year in the program, she said, her daughter is learning how to cope with her anger and is doing well in school.
“She is able to walk away when she is mad. That is something she was not able to do before,” said the mother, Bobbie, who provided only her first name out of privacy concerns and didn’t wish to identify her young daughter. “If you take these wraparound services away, you’ll be destroying families like mine.”
The policy luncheon on Thursday was part of a week of activity organized by advocates for improving mental health care for children in New Hampshire. Libraries have been hosting showings of documentary films on mental health topics, former state Supreme Court Justice John Broderick has been visiting schools to discuss the five identifying signs of mental illness and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu praised the collaborative’s work on Wednesday, saying mental health issues don’t just materialize after high school and it’s time for the state to make the issue a priority.