At the beginning of the 2013 legislative session, there was a lot of discussion about how to prevent mass shootings, driven in large part by the tragedies at Accent Signage and Newtown, Conn. There were calls for changes in gun laws and in the mental-health system. With the session concluded there has been surprisingly little coverage on what the Legislature did to improve the mental-health system. This is troubling because it seems as if the only attention paid to the mental-health system is when it doesn’t work. People need to know that things are changing in order to have hope for the future.
The 2013 session was actually a banner year for children’s mental health. Focus needed to be here because half of all adults with a serious mental illness begin exhibiting symptoms before the age of 14. If we wait until they are adults, we have waited too long. These efforts were kicked off in February with a press conference filled with legislators and advocates and the subsequent introduction of 12 bills. There were about 29 provisions in those bills, and 17 of them passed. Yet none of the successes was covered by the media.
The largest victory was an increase in funds for school-linked mental-health grants. Included in the governor’s budget, the funding was increased 50 percent for the first year and 100 percent for the second year of the biennium. These grants to mental-health providers who deliver treatment in our schools have proven to decrease the barriers faced by children in accessing mental-health treatment and to improve outcomes.
A number of services were added to the benefits reimbursed under Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare, including family education and care coordination. In-reach services were added so that care could be provided when a child leaves the hospital or emergency room to help reduce readmissions and ensure a smooth transition. Increased funding is available for community mental-health crisis teams.
Work-force shortages addressed
Addressing work-force shortages was also included in these bills. Building on the use of peer specialists in the adult mental-health system, family peer specialists will operate within existing children’s mental-health programs. Behavioral-health aides will be able to obtain a certificate through our community colleges. A summit will be held to engage our higher-education and mental-health system in developing a plan to increase the number of mental-health professionals, ensure proper training and create a more culturally diverse work force.
Funding for the Youth Mental Health First Aid training is available to train teachers, social-service personnel, law enforcement, and others who come into contact with children with mental illnesses. Schools will be encouraged to provide mental-health information for students in grades 6-12 as part of their health curriculum. The safe-school levy was increased for school districts to be used to pay for security enhancements in schools, for costs associated with improving the school climate, and for costs related to co-locating and collaborating with mental-health professionals who are not district employees or contractors.
Improvements were made to Minnesota’s longstanding law requiring teachers to have continuing education on the early warning signs of mental illnesses. The new law will allow teachers who have taken the initial training to take more in-depth training in subsequent years on a variety of topics including trauma, accommodations, parents’ role in addressing children’s mental illnesses, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, autism, and de-escalation techniques.
NAMI is pleased with the outcomes of the session. Proper attention was paid to the critical need to develop a robust children’s mental-health system where we provide early identification and treatment and where the adults who work with and support children understand mental illnesses and know how to help. We made great strides this year and need to celebrate these successes – before we come back next year to continue our work.
Sue Abderholden, MPH, is the executive director of NAMI Minnesota.
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