New Commission Aims to Develop Long-Term Strategies for Providing Behavioral Health Care for Youth in Washington – State of Reform

A new commission created to develop long-term strategies to ensure access to behavioral health care for Washington’s perinatal families, children and youth discussed some focus areas during its first meeting Monday.

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The Prenatal to 25 Behavioral Health Strategic Plan Advisory Committee was formed during the 2022 legislative session with the passage of House Bill 1890. The Working Group on Child and Youth Health (CYBHWG) recommended the commission’s development to the Legislature, directing it to develop a strategic plan to address behavioral health needs statewide.

CYBHWG Co-Chair Lisa Callen (D-Issaquah) said the state’s behavioral health landscape has many gaping holes.

“We know the capacity and the labor shortage,” Callen said. “We have this wonderful opportunity and a real mandate and a primary obligation for us to make sure that we get out of a coming cycle of crisis on the behavioral health of children, youth and families.” And drive to a visionary space where we can ensure everyone has the care they need, when and where they need it.”

The committee must present a strategic plan to the governor and Legislature by Nov. 1, 2024. Maureen Sorensen, senior director of foster care operations at Coordinated Care, said the primary goal should be to focus on placing youth in hospitals. She said this is particularly harmful to youth who have intellectual disabilities and co-occurring disorders.

“When that is combined with the trauma of foster care, we have multiple youth who are being housed in our hospitals because we don’t have a safe and appropriate place for them in Washington state,” Sorensen said. “Every day our young people are in similar situations and it causes them irreversible additional traumas. I hope that some people here can rally around this issue and work together to support the youth who do not have access to services in these facilities, as well as the youth who are housed in our hospitals.”

Sorensen said many youth who are placed in foster care do not have access to places focused on healing.

“They leave the facilities when they can, they have extremely high access to substances, and we’re seeing astronomical fentanyl use with our foster youth,” Sorensen said. “The issue of having Narcan on them is something we’re working on with those groups.”

CYBHWG co-chair Dr. Kerry Waterland, director of the Washington State Department of Behavioral Health and Rehabilitation, said Kauffman & Associates will serve as a consultant to the committee.

“Over the next few months, we’ll be formalizing what that looks like through charter work and other things and engaging with Kauffman & Associates on the cadence of our meetings,” Waterland said. “We will also look at what this looks like across the country, taking into account rural, urban and border areas and making sure all those voices are included in the work we do. There will be gaps that this landscape analysis brings up so we can decide how we’re going to address them.”

Sharon Shadwell, a mental health consultant who provides services in the Puget Sound area, noted how important it is to consider the health of the unborn.

“I want to express my deep appreciation for the recognition of how important it is to think about behavioral health even before a child is born,” Shadwell said. “Our mental health and well-being really develop in the context of our most important relationships, and this happens from the beginning of our lives and throughout our lives.”

The next meeting of the commission will be on October 13 at 1:30 p.m.

“The idea behind [HB] 1890 was about not only taking care of today’s needs and problems, but also making sure we know where we’re going tomorrow and what the long-term plans are for the state,” Callen said. “For next year, [we’ll] reach out to the community and listen deeply within communities to help inform [us]. We will also work on attempts to quantify and qualify the landscape [and] What [services] currently exist across the continuum of care services in Washington State. Where are the deserts and for what service and for whom? That will evolve to where we define the real gaps and how we address those gaps.”

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