A new committee created to develop long-term strategies to ensure access to behavioral health care for Washington’s perinatal families, children and youth discussed several areas of focus during its first meeting Monday.
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of Prenatal Health Strategic Plan Advisory Committee to 25 Behavior was formed during the 2022 legislative session with the passage of House Bill 1890. of Task Force on Child and Youth Behavioral Health (CYBHWG) recommended to the Legislature the development of the committee, directing it to develop a strategic plan to address behavioral health needs across the state.
Co-chair of CYBHWG, Rep. Lisa Callan (D-Issaquah) said the state’s behavioral health landscape has many gaping holes.
“We know the capacity and the labor shortage,” Callan said. “We have this wonderful opportunity and the current mandate and the primary task for us to make sure that we pull ourselves out of a looming cycle of behavioral health crisis for children, youth and families. And move toward a visionary space where we can make sure everyone gets the care they need when and where they need it.”
The committee must submit 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 housing youth in hospitals. She said this is particularly harmful for young people who have intellectual disabilities and co-occurring disorders.
“When that’s combined with the trauma of family caregiving, we have a lot of young people who are boarding our hospitals because we don’t have a safe and convenient place for them in Washington state,” Sorensen said. “Every day our young people are in these situations and it is causing them additional irreversible trauma. I hope that some people here can rally around this issue and work together to support young people who don’t have access to services in those settings, as well as young people who are boarding our hospitals.”
Sorensen said many youth in foster care do not have access to recovery-focused spaces.
“They’re leaving 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 is something we’re working on with those groups.”
Co-Chairman of CYBHWG Dr. Keri Waterland, Director of the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery at the Washington State Health Care Authority, said Kauffman & Associates will serve as a consultant to the committee.
“In the coming months, we’ll be formalizing what that looks like through charter work and other things, and we’ll be engaging with Kauffman & Associates in our cadence of meetings,” Waterland said. “We will also look at what it 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 counselor who provides services in the Puget Sound area, noted the importance of considering the health of the unborn.
“I want to express my deep appreciation for recognizing how critical it is to think about behavioral health starting 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 held on October 13 at 1:30 p.m.
“The idea behind [HB] 1890 was not just about taking care of today’s needs and issues, but about making sure we knew where we were going tomorrow and what the long-term plans were for the state,” Callan said. “For the next year, [we’ll] do community outreach and do deep listening within communities to help inform [us]. We will also work on trying to quantify and qualify the landscape [and] what [services] currently exist across the continuum of care services in Washington State. Where are the deserts, for what service and for whom? That will evolve into where we define the real gaps and how we take care of those gaps.”