To the Editor:
As a Virginia resident and graduate student in social work, I am concerned about the number of local children and youth who have diagnosable mental health disorders and aren’t getting the support they need. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), one in five children has a diagnosable mental disorder and 75 percent to 80 percent of children and youth in need of mental health services do not receive them. Similarly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds that in the state of Virginia, there are about 102,000 children and adolescents with a serious emotional disturbance and only 7 percent of mental health expenditures in Virginia go to children under the age of 18. NAMI states that Virginia also lacks in-home and community-based services, and 87 localities have no child psychiatrist. The Mental Health Accessibility Act (S.3289) provides states with an avenue to avoid institutionalization of children and youth.
The Children’s Mental Health Accessibility Act would address this problem by giving states the option of using Medicaid funding to provide Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) so children can remain in a home-based setting while receiving mental health services. The Children’s Mental Health Accessibility Act (S.3289) is crucial because in-home intervention can cost on average less than a third of the institutional costs, and, more importantly, achieves better outcomes for children.
I am in support of Senator John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) and co-sponsor Senator Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) efforts to pass the Children’s Mental Health Accessibility Act (S.3289). This bill is bipartisan and will allow many children now in residential treatment to be served in a home environment with families and in their communities and allow others to avoid institutionalization altogether. The bill will strengthen family ties and provide much needed mental health resources while maintaining children’s connections in the home, school, and community.