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Federal Grant Will Bolster Children’s Mental Health Reform in WA State

Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will receive $4 million from the federal government over the next four years to expand its system of providing mental health services to children with serious emotional problems. Efforts are already underway to coordinate this new influx of resources with ongoing mental health services delivery reform. The Department is engaged in the reform effort pursuant to the Interim Agreement it entered into earlier this year in the class action lawsuit T.R. v. Dreyfus. The class of children are represented by the National Center for Youth Law, Disability Rights Washington, the National Health Law Program, Perkins Coie, and Young Minds Advocacy.

Washington was one of 16 recipients of this grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The purpose of the grant—known as the System of Care Expansion Implementation Cooperative Agreement—is to allow states, territories, and tribal organizations to engage in strategic planning to build upon the “system of care” approach to serving mentally ill children and their families. This approach has continued to gain traction in the mental health community since its introduction in the 1980s. In the words of a report that SAMHSA issued in 2011, the “system of care” concept centers around a number of “core values”: that mental health services to youth should be “community-based, family-driven, youth-guided, and culturally and linguistically competent”. Critically, a system of care places the child’s individual needs at the center and coordinates services across agencies in accordance with what the child and his or her family need.

Washington has announced that it will use its funds to provide services directly to children as well as to assist in broader infrastructure changes such as training and policy developments. Said DSHS Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams, “This new grant will build upon progress we have made in developing a comprehensive plan to expand and sustain high quality and coordinated care to better meet the needs of children and youth.”

Meanwhile, pursuant to the Interim Agreement in T.R., DSHS and other parties will come back to the negotiating table in early 2013 to begin crafting the next steps of a comprehensive plan to serve Washington’s children with mental health needs.

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