August 21st, 2013

Law establishes ‘best practices’ plan

A new law passed in Connecticut aims to establish a ‘best practices’ plan when it comes to treating the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children in the state.

The legislation, which was signed by Gov. Dannel Patrick Malloy in June, was developed in part as a response to the Newtown shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Dec. 2012. Senate Bill 972 was written to complement the mental health portion of legislation passed earlier this year, a direct response to the shootings which made changes to the state’s laws on guns, security for K-12 public schools and mental health insurance coverage and provisions, says Conn. Sen. Danté Bartolomeo (D-13th district), a lead co-sponsor of S.B. 972.

“Our goal for this was to really look at this bill as kind of the beginning of making our mental health system one that will focus on prevention and early identification and intervention but also engages families and communities and offer support that is in a continuum of care. …What we’re doing with this bill is really the first step of what we hope will set a policy framework based on best practices,” she says.

The bill provides guidelines for developing a plan and sets up a timeline to establish it. “We are requiring communication across agencies and amongst different agencies and schools and community health centers and families,” says Bartolomeo. “So we’re looking for the agencies and the programs to provide the same types of treatment, use a common referral process, utilize a core set of competencies and training, have consistent standards and look also at the collecting and the fabricating of data.”

The legislation asks for a status report on the plan by the Commissioner of Children and Families by April 2014. A plan should be established and presented by October 2014, according to the bill.

The bill establishes a Children’s Mental Health Task Force to study the effects of nutrition, genetics, alternative treatments and psychotropic drugs on the mental health of children. The bill also calls for a study looking at whether children and young adults with mental health issues are placed into juvenile justice centers rather than being treated for their issues, among other provisions in the legislation.

David Suscovich, Psy.D., LMFT, co-managing partner of the Behavioral Health Center in Middlebury, Conn., says the strong points of the legislation are its focus on prevention and collaboration between schools, juvenile justice centers and the mental health community.

“This has always been an area of struggle because the issues have become more and more complex as time has gone on,” he says. “Quite often, what happens is our disciplines get to be too focused and we are not working as closely and collaboratively as we can because we all get very busy and our focus tends to be what we do and what we’re trained to do.”

Suscovich, who has been involved with the state’s Department of Children and Families, says the effectiveness of the bill remains to be seen. “It looks really good on paper,” he says. “I think the key pieces are how, in fact, it will actually be implemented and that’s a pretty formidable task because again, our lives are much more complicated with a whole variety of stressors. And it’s not just a matter of having more money to throw at this. I think we have to develop better understanding.” He adds “…because we are still in recovery of the Newtown incident, we also need to look more carefully at our young adults and teenagers…There are some children that just don’t handle a traditional school setting well and the options for those kids are severely limited.”

By Rivkela Brodsky

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