Members of the mental health committee advising the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors have decided to look to an existing group of children’s mental health care providers for guidance.

On July 1, an Iowa law went into effect erecting a framework for a statewide mental health program for children. The bill included no fixed funding for the system, but it based the children’s mental health network on the existing regional system for adults.

That system, comprised of 14 regional bodies made up of county officials, will be in charge of implementing and, in part, funding the services.

Members of the Dubuque County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Stakeholders Committee spent a meeting this week deciding their role in what’s to come.

The committee is a diverse group of health care professionals, nonprofit organizers, elected officials and more. But to help make recommendations around children’s mental health, they wanted a subcommittee to include, chiefly, professionals in that field.

Chris Corken — a member of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque board of directors — recommended looking to a group of professionals already formed.

Foundation Youth Impact Coordinator Rachel Williams currently oversees a trauma-informed care group, which Corken said basically already does the work the subcommittee in question would.

“What we want is a physical map of what we have and where we have it,” she said. “There’s (the Department of Human Services) as a portal, the schools as a portal. We don’t want to be duplicating, but we need to know who’s doing what and what’s not being done. That’s the first, best step of any kind of programming.”

The group agreed with Corken’s recommendation to distribute subcommittee applications to practitioners participating in the trauma-informed care group to tie them to the hierarchy.

“This committee requires an application and a process,” Corken said. “What we need is an institutional connection to those providers.”

From the elected official perspective, Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said that would give their words the weight necessary for supervisors to bring recommendations to the regional governing board.

Dubuque County Supervisor Dave Baker said a more focused group could make more headway on the issue of children’s mental health than could a group the size of the stakeholders committee.

“A subcommittee can be a lot more nimble, meet more often and get back to the main group,” he said.

If members of the trauma-informed care group bite and want to participate, they will join one or two members of the stakeholders committee in the smaller group.

They’ll have their work cut out for them, as stakeholders committee members each presented multiple problems that they see with mental health care that is available for children currently.

Sue Whitty, board president for Mental Health America of Dubuque County, provided mental health services in schools for 30 years. She said one of the biggest problems is a shortage of psychologists for youths nearby.

“The service providers working with individuals have ideas, but today’s kids are complex,” she said. “We have a lot of young people who seem very angry and we can’t get underneath to understand what the source of that is. There aren’t many psychologists in our area to begin with. There are even less who work with children. That would help us avert crises.”

Other problems stemmed from Medicaid repayments, hiring lower level employees with limited funds and more.

Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, attended Tuesday’s meeting to listen. She said it was unfortunate that lawmakers failed to create a funding source.

“We have created a skeleton of a structure,” she told the group. “We all know through the failures of the adult mental health care system, when you pass legislation without any funding, it’s about worth the paper that it’s written on. I hope in the next year we can get some actual funding. But there are some political realities that are barriers for further funding.”

If and when that funding ever comes, though, members of the stakeholders committee want to be ready — hence the subcommittee.

“We want to be proactive,” said Jodi Jansen, Dubuque County coordinator of mental health/developmental disabilities services. “It’s to develop a proper system. We need this to really plan.”

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