SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod Blagojevich today announced an ambitious plan to upgrade Illinois’ children’s mental health system by creating a one-stop, statewide screening program and hotline that would deliver crisis services and direct low-income children in need of treatment to community-based providers.
Called the Children’s Mental Health Screening Initiative (CMHSI), the initiative is the result of close cooperation among three state agencies: the Departments of Public Aid (DPA), Children and Family Services (DCFS), and Human Services (DHS). Previously, the departments worked independently when delivering mental health services to children. The new proposal relies on targeting resources more efficiently and effectively and will leverage an additional $1.1 million in more federal Medicaid funding by claiming matching funds for services that were previously paid for by the state.
“We’ve known for a long time that many serious mental health problems can be treated in community settings,” Blagojevich said. “With this new approach we will make sure kids aren’t hospitalized unnecessarily. And when it’s appropriate, they will get community-based care and follow-up.”
Under the Children’s Mental Health Screening Initiative, children from low-income environments who experience a mental health crisis will be treated using Screening, Assessment and Support Services (SASS), a proven approach that provides crisis intervention, linkage and coordination of services for aftercare or outpatient treatment. A 1997 study by the University of Chicago found that youth discharged to communities and treated under SASS were 42% less likely to re-enter a psychiatric hospital.
In addition to all three agencies using the SASS approach, the Children’s Mental Health Screening Initiative also will offer a statewide hotline to handle calls for children experiencing a psychiatric crisis. The hotline agent would determine whether the child should be referred to a screening program in their local area for a full assessment and determine whether the family needs public support paying for services.
Also, CMHSI puts an emphasis on a family friendly, single point of entry for all children using this system. One of its main goals is to refer children to community-based treatment options when possible to prevent unnecessary psychiatric hospitalization. Among the many benefits of the new CMHSI is that it will create a single database that can be used to evaluate the need for services on a statewide basis.
“This is a great example of how this administration is breaking down bureaucratic walls and getting state agencies to work together to solve people’s problems,” the Governor said. The new initiative was created under the leadership of IDPA Director Barry S. Maram, DCFS Director Bryan Samuels, and DHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D.
Details of the new plan were unveiled this month at a series of meetings around the state with children’s mental health providers and advocates. Comments and suggestions received at these meetings will be taken into account as the details of the proposal are finalized on July 1.
DHS pioneered the use of the SASS-type approach in Illinois on a limited basis in 1989. DCFS adopted the model on a statewide basis in 1992, and DHS created its own statewide screening and assessment system in 1996. Children enrolled in the KidCare and Medicaid programs funded by DPA are not screened before admission to psychiatric hospitals.
Officials estimate more than 19,000 cases will be screened in the first year under the new program.
The Children’s Mental Health Screening program was created by the Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003, which was passed by the General Assembly last year and signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich in July.
The bill also created the Children’s Mental Health Partnership, a body to oversee the development of the state’s plan for treating children’s mental illness. The group will include representatives of various state agencies, the General Assembly, families with children with mental illness, and advocacy and treatment groups.