Few options for many Idaho kids facing mental health crisis

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LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Some families of children suffering from mental health issues are finding it difficult to access services, leaving public schools to become the front line of treatment for kids with mental disorders.

At its best, the road to accessing mental health services for kids is challenging, fraught with inadequate insurance coverage, few care providers, poverty and stigma, Lewiston School District social worker Steve Button told the Lewiston Tribune newspaper (http://bit.ly/1EtFRnR ).

At its worst, "a lot of times kids just don't get services," Button said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent to 20 percent of children in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder in any given year. Low-income youth face a higher risk than their financially stable counterparts.

Mental health concerns affect every aspect of a child's life, and kids dealing with mental health problems are often not their best in school, Button said.

"And then it becomes kind of a slippery slope for the schools. Our primary job is not to do therapy with kids or be therapists for kids," Button said. "And so because kids don't get services, we know they need help you end up seeing them, meeting with them and, kind of by default, you become the mental health provider for that kid."

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare provides crisis response, assessments, case management and family education services to some children with mental health issues, said Jennifer Shuffield, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's regional clinical supervisor for behavioral health.

To qualify for services, children must have a substantial functional impairment and a specific kind of diagnosis, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, major depression or bipolar disorder.

But the state doesn't administer clinical services directly — instead, the agency works with families to identify what kind of services they could benefit from based on their insurance coverage or lack thereof. Generally, that means connecting families with a private provider who accepts their insurance or Medicaid.

"And if they have no coverage, then we help them through the services that we can here," Shuffield said.

During a 9-month span ending March 31, 2015, more than 100 children and their families received behavioral health services through the state in Latah, Nez Perce, Lewis, Idaho and Clearwater counties.

"Even though they may find someplace that would take (payment on a) sliding scale, that's still more than they're willing or able to afford," Button said of some families seeking assistance.

Rural school districts that don't have dedicated mental health teams, such as Lewiston, are put in a difficult position when children with untreated mental health concerns fall to the responsibility of teachers, Button said. "They certainly don't have the training to do that. But that doesn't mean the need's not there."


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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