Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday announced a children’s behavioral health initiative to oversee coordination across state agencies with the aim of making specialized support and resources more easily available to children and families. (Chicago Tribune 3.18.2022,Photo Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
The initiative will evaluate and redesign the system of children’s health in the state, from school social workers and counselors to outpatient treatments and residential care centers, Pritzker said at a news conference at Lawrence Hall, a Ravenswood center that provides care for abused and neglected youths and their families.
The initiative will produce a “transformation blueprint” for better support of children in need by the end of this year, Pritzker said.
Children needing mental health services or support for an intellectual or developmental disability often run into a system that is “inefficient, confusing and difficult to navigate,” Pritzker said.
“If a kid needs help, it should be as straightforward as possible for them to get it,” Pritzker said. “As a result of this work, Illinois families will be better able to access holistic, wraparound support for children in need.”
Pritzker tapped Dana Weiner, a child welfare expert from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, which researches best ways to improve children’s health services, to direct the initiative. Weiner’s work prioritizes evidence-based research to produce policies and services that best meet children’s needs.
Weiner will work with the leaders from six state agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, to streamline services. The heads of those agencies, as well as lawmakers and community service providers, joined Pritzker on Friday to announce the initiative.
Families presently needing support and services for their children lack “consistent, transparent solutions to the challenges they face,” Weiner said.
“This uncertainty can threaten the healthy development of children and the integrity and stability of families,” Weiner said. “What we need is an intentional, coordinated strategy to get families the help they need for children who are struggling.”
The announcement comes as a Cook County Juvenile Court judge has ordered DCFS Director Marc Smith to be held in contempt of court seven times since January for failing to place troubled youth in appropriate placements quickly.
State Sen. Karina Villa, a West Chicago Democrat, said working as a school social worker and seeing the desperation in parents’ eyes as their children were put on months long waitlists for therapy, counseling and other services, or turned away altogether is what made her run for office.
“A few years after getting inaugurated, I stand here with all of you, and I stand here saying the hope is here,” Villa said. “We are ready, we know what the issues are with mental health, we know that there needs to be changes. And the future depends on it, our students’ lives, our children’s lives, our families’ lives, our community lives, the lives of the communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by so much in regards to COVID.
“We know that the time is now.”
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