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KidsPeace CEO Speaks Out - Mental Health Funding for Children

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A version of this article was published in The Morning Call as a guest column on February 16, 2011.

 

W.IsemannWilliam Isemann, President and CEO of KidsPeace

 

The tragic shooting in Arizona last month should be a wake-up call for us all because it could have been prevented. It was alarming to learn that gunman Jared Loughner exhibited behavior indicative of mental health issues for several years, but had never received the help he needed.

 

Alarming, but not surprising, in light of the fact that funding for mental health services has been drastically reduced over the same time period.

 

Young people, who should be hospitalized or in residential treatment facilities, are being referred to an overloaded outpatient system or, like Loughner, expelled from school because they are seen as threats to the student body and faculties. Without treatment, the issues troubling these kids worsen, escalating into the type of tragedies we witnessed in Arizona and more recently, in California, where a school shooting resulted in the death of a school administrator.

 

As President and CEO of KidsPeace, a Lehigh Valley, PA-headquartered nonprofit that provides mental health care to children, teens and young adults, I have witnessed dramatic transformations.  I’ve seen children who were literally “saved” by well-trained medical staff and clinicians applying tailored treatment plans of counseling, medication, education and hard work. The complexity of needs we see today is unprecedented and often demands that we intervene quickly to provide care -- wherever they are needed to save a child.

 

Budget reductions by federal, state and local entities, as well as reduced insurance payments, have had an enormous impact on services for children. Fewer and fewer emotionally and mentally impaired children are receiving the identification, diagnosis and treatment they need. There is little funding available for outpatient treatment, and much less for hospital or residential care that would help children heal and become productive members of our communities.

 

Schools must also take a more proactive role in identifying students with mental health issues, ensuring that they are referred to counselors, physicians, psychologists, social workers or clinicians for the help they need.  If parents refuse or are unable to recognize signs of illness in their children, our schools need to inform the proper social services, medical or law enforcement authorities that a child is spiraling out-of-control and possibly toward a violent act.

Prevention is key.  We are calling on all public and private schools to adopt a “Threat Assessment System” which outlines symptoms, available help and procedures if any incident takes place.

Dr. Peter Langman, KidsPeace psychologist and author of the book,

“Why Kids Kill:  Inside the Minds of School Shooters,” recommends schools implement a plan based on Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence published by Cornell and Sheras.

 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is standing firm in his commitment not to increase taxes for our residents.  He and his new Cabinet are currently reviewing state expenditures to determine where reductions should be made. Adding our voice to the other 130 agencies throughout the state that provide services to support tens of thousands of at-risk children and families, KidsPeace is urging our new governor to maintain revenue for Children and Youth services at the current level. A total of 59% of KidsPeace funding comes through the state.  Those reductions would have a very significant negative impact on hundreds of children who depend on KidsPeace and other providers to serve, heal and help children grow.

 

Removing money today from mental health care budgets will only cost more in the long run – both in financial and human costs. There is a strong linkage between mental health disorders and juvenile justice behaviors.  Research shows that approximately 70% of children already involved with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and approximately 25% of children have a mental health disorder so severe it interferes with their ability to function. 

 

The system failed a young man in Arizona and he unleashed terror on his innocent victims. Other young people out there deal with similar demons.  Are we willing to allow the system to fail them as well?  Some act out by bullying, torturing animals or terrorizing their families.  Others bring guns to school football games, search the web for plans to build bombs or attempt suicide. They are unable to deal with their anxiety, depression or other emotional or mental problems without treatment from professionals.

 

As a society, as a nation, as a community – we must hear their cries and make a firm commitment to provide the hope, help and healing they so desperately need.


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