It’s only three weeks into 2015, and already this is shaping up to be the year of mental health. The continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act and requirements for parity under the new law, specialty mental health services under the “carve-out” as well as shifts in contracting for mental health services for our clients have set the tone for us this year, and it’s a tone of change.
While we know that change is not always good or bad, we naturally have concerns about any change to service delivery for our vulnerable clients. Most recently, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made a significant decision to investigate the idea of consolidating the Department of Mental Health with the Department of Health Services. As a contractor with the Department of Mental Health for the specialty mental health services we provide to children in our care (see how everything seems to be so connected?), we responded to the idea with hesitant hopefulness.
In general, mental health has long been the afterthought of health care. Stigma and a lack of professionals in the field has compounded the general misunderstanding of mental illness and unfortunately resulted in barriers to access and consequently, barriers to wellness. Not surprisingly, minority communities and those struggling with poverty are hit hardest by this lack of access. Consider that over 7% of children in California have a serious emotional disturbance. In Los Angeles County, that is 7.8%, but rises to 8.95% for children in Los Angeles that are living under 200% of the federal poverty level. Those are the same children who are more likely to live in households marred by drug abuse, incarcerated parents and gang violence. These are the children, and the families, that Crittenton is committed to serving.
The proposal by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors raised cogent concerns from members of the community, advocates, providers and consumers of services. Dozens of individuals were present at the meeting last week to share their concerns, and undoubtedly countless letters were sent. Upon hearing about the proposal, Crittenton sent a letter to the members of the Board of Supervisors, asking for a thoughtful approach to this idea.
As pointed out in our letter, Crittenton’s concerns are based in the belief that mental health must be protected, and the ability for our most vulnerable children to access and receive help must be preserved. From a legal and a humanitarian perspective, abandoning children to suffer with mental illness is unacceptable, and most especially unacceptable in a time when we have made so many advances in serving them. Any consolidation, or rather any change, to the delivery of mental health services must safeguard children as the number one priority. They are the least able to advocate for themselves and the least able to navigate this complex system alone.
Ultimately, the board did approve the motion, however included amendments that we find agreeable. Among those, is a stakeholder process over the 60 day period in which department heads, county counsel and the CEO’s office will consider the design and implementation of the restructured agency. As stated in the letter to the board of supervisors, we remain hopeful that children will remain at the forefront of any consolidation, and we remain ready to assist however we can.
Related News Article: Los Angeles County Weighs Merger of Health Agencies (LA Times)
Related Information: Crittenton Response to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Stefanie Benvenuto serves as the Public Policy and Advocacy Director of Crittenton Services for Children and Families of Southern California (CSCF). In this role she is directly responsible for the agency’s public policy program and advocacy efforts relating to child welfare, foster care, juvenile justice, and similar areas of legislative focus. Ms. Benvenuto also serves as Crittenton’s policy analyst, an advisor on all civic engagement efforts, and manages governmental and community relations needs at the local, county, state, and national level.