New Support for Children & Families In Need
By Governor Dave Heineman
Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
At the end of this year's legislative session I signed LB 603 into law. The bill was a priority for the Legislature and my administration because it provides additional services, support and professional resources for families dealing with children's behavioral health issues. LB 603 helps address the gap in services by providing services and expertise to support children and their families.
One of the most important aspects of this bill is to provide parents and guardians seeking help with children and teens direct access to trained professionals. At the start of 2010, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will have a statewide hotline for families dealing with behavioral health issues up and running. The hotline will be staffed 24/7 by professionals trained in mental health assessment.
This addresses one of the most important issues, which is to provide families with immediate access to someone who can offer help and mediation. The hotline will also be staffed to provide basic assessments of children and teens and refer families to existing community resources for a thorough evaluation.
A new family navigator program will be starting in 2010. This program will connect those with experience in accessing behavioral health care with those contacting the new hotline. Navigators will have the training to help families arrange for mental health services, and work one-on-one to offer assistance to those not familiar with the services available from Nebraska's behavioral health providers.
Health and Human Services will continue to provide support services to families that adopt or serve as guardians of a child with behavioral health challenges, as requested by families. Research indicates that up to 10 percent of adoptions dissolve and that continuing services is an effective way to help these families be successful.
This is an important component of LB 603 because approximately half of the young people involved in 2008 safe haven cases had been adopted or placed in a guardianship. Studies show post-adoption and post-guardianship services are effective in helping families through the transition and helping ensure stability. This is an area where a little added help can make a big difference.
LB 603 expands services by helping more children access the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Eligibility will be expanded from 185 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, so that more children under 19 can qualify for Medicaid coverage.
The bill provides an additional $1.5 million in the coming biennium to Nebraska's six behavioral health regions to expand an existing mentoring program and support other services for children.
Finally, the bill seeks to ensure greater professional support is available to families in Nebraska communities. This summer the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center will be created at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to begin addressing the need for additional behavioral health professionals in the state. The center will recruit and train more psychiatry residents, particularly in underserved areas of the state, through six new training sites.
Next year, two new psychiatry residents will work and train in Nebraska communities, with two more residents added each year. By 2013, 20 additional psychiatry residents will have gone through the training and gained real-world experience in psychiatry.
I appreciate the work of the Legislature's Health and Human Services committee and other State Senators for their support in crafting a bill that would respond to many of the challenges Nebraska families face.
Our goal is to focus on early intervention in order to help more children remain at home with their families. This bill is a step in that direction.