(Clarinda) -- A local mental health provider calls the creation of a children's mental health system in Iowa a step in the right direction.
Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill this week that establishes a Children's Behavioral Health System State Board, which is tasked with creating a statewide mental health system for children. Bernie Wagoner is a therapist and clinical director for Southwest Iowa Families -- a non-profit based in Clarinda providing counseling and other services to the area. Wagoner applauders the governor and lawmakers for coming together on the legislation.
"We're very lucky that we have a governor who acknowledges that we have a problem and that established the study committee that recommended that we have a children's mental health system," said Wagoner.
However, Wagoner says the actual system could take awhile to implement.
"There probably is not going to be any significant money attached to this until 2020, but we actually have a committee that's working on this at the state level and a governor and legislature that are very supportive of the need to develop this system," said Wagoner. "I think we are going to see good things happen for kids within the next five years, but it's late in coming and slow in coming."
Wagoner says the staff at Southwest Iowa Families treats around 350 children each year.
"We are fortunate here in our county," said Wagoner. "We have more providers that are providing services for kids than some of the rural counties around us that are providing services for kids. But, we don't have any inpatient any nearer than Lincoln or Omaha/Council Bluffs. We also don't have any services that would provide for preventing a child from having to use an inpatient bed. The nearest step-down services that are available are in Lincoln or the Omaha area."
Wagoner says children can present a unique problem when it comes to treating mental illness or a behavior disorder.
"Kids that come with a genetic predisposition to mental illness that comes from within their family," said Wagoner. "That could be someone in the family having ADHD and the kid -- guess what -- also has ADHD. Some children also come in because of their basic temperament. They could be very quiet and shy and having difficulty separating from their parents to go to school."
Perhaps the most common issue Wagoner says she sees in children in the area is trouble adjusting to situations happening at home or school.
"That could be some sort of situational thing that is going on," said Wagoner. "For example, that could be something like Mom and Dad getting a divorce and the kids are having a tough time adjusting to that new situation. Or, it could be some sort of trauma like child abuse and neglect. Some of our kids come into us that are referred directly from the child welfare system."
Wagoner says the current framework of Iowa's mental health system allows children to fall through the cracks. She says there are children who could benefit from certain types of services, but eligibility issues prevent that.
"We have behavioral health intervention services here in our agency, but those are available only to children who are Title 19 eligible," said Wagoner. "So, if a family's children are on the Hawki program, they may have a kid having behavioral issues and problems that would benefit from BHIS services, but they are not eligible at the current time."
The new system would be available to children with families earning less than 500% of the federal poverty level. To be eligible, a child would need a previous diagnosis of serious emotional disturbance -- which does not include substance abuse or developmental disorders. Reynolds has pledged to work with lawmakers to identify a permanent funding source for the program prior to the start of the 2020 legislative session.