Regional officials are starting to plan for how they will roll out Iowa’s new children’s mental health system.

Mechelle Dhondt, CEO of Mental Health/Disability Services of the East Central Region, told members of a Dubuque County committee this week about services that officials will seek to establish in the coming years and what services already are available.

“I think that the mental health system has been through enough crises and enough change that we have learned that we need to stay calm,” she said. “We’ll get it in place.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds this year signed legislation to create a statewide children’s mental health system based on the existing system for adults.

Under the new system, the state’s mental health and disability services regions will be responsible for developing networks of mental health services and pay for services for children who do not have insurance and meet income guidelines.

Dhondt told members of the Dubuque County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Stakeholders Committee that the region already has some services in place, such as mobile crisis response and inpatient treatment. The East Central Region includes Delaware, Dubuque and Jones counties.

However, other services, such as community-based and residential services for crisis stabilization, still need to be established, Dhondt said. Regional officials also will look to hire a children’s service coordinator and hopefully expand access to therapists in schools, among other efforts.

As officials establish service networks, efforts to communicate to families what is available will be key, Dhondt said.

“It’s going to be a path that needs to be very clearly marked so that when parents or peers or teachers run across someone that has needs, that they know where to turn,” she said.

Committee members also discussed efforts to establish a subcommittee to help come up with a plan to improve mental health access in the new children’s system. Members could then take that plan to the region for potential funding.

Committee members have been seeking to recruit members of an existing trauma-informed care group facilitated by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

Dubuque County Supervisor Ann McDonough said she would also like to see the subcommittee also include people from different backgrounds and from rural communities.

“It’s exciting to see people, but to get to where we need to go, there’s some missing voices,” she said.

Chris Corken, a consultant for the community foundation, agreed to help coordinate the recruitment of subcommittee members.

She suggested that subcommittee members start holding discussions at existing meetings of the trauma-informed care group and then make their way out into the county as the subcommittee develops.

“Otherwise, we’re just going to be spinning our wheels,” she said.

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