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Progress on mental health front

Gov. Reynolds announces new initiative to help children

Gov. Kim Reynolds stressed in her Condition of the State Address in January that there is a need to strengthen our state’s mental health systems. In the months that followed, she received strong support in the Legislature for additional funding and innovative initiatives. While there has been progress in improving mental health care options overall, the governor said the resources available to help Iowa’s children aren’t as good as they should be. That’s why she and lawmakers made developing a first-rate, comprehensive mental health system for children a top priority.

“We must create a children’s mental health system where the path to healing is clearly marked,” the governor said. “A system that lets parents know where to begin — and that their child can begin immediately.”

Reynolds has just announced that $2.1 million is being made available to Iowa’s Area Education Agencies to conduct an important mental health initiative project for teachers and other school personnel.

“Our investment will help train teachers to better recognize early signs of mental illness and promote early intervention,” Reynolds said. “This is an important step to better support our educators working with students, and families struggling with mental illness.”

According to information provided by the governor’s office, the money being allocating will make possible professional development efforts. These will include Youth Mental Health First Aid training for more educators across the Hawkeye State. That curriculum “teaches about risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, and promotes early intervention to support students who need assistance.”

The AEAs will upgrade online clearinghouse resources regarding mental health support. Other specific projects will vary across the state. Each AEA will assess how best to use the funds provided given the range of mental health services that exist in the communities it serves.

“We are deliberately applying these funds differently to meet the needs of Iowa’s school districts, and we’ll use the collective data to continue improving supports available for students. That single outcome — better mental health supports for students — is the primary goal,” Tom Lane, executive director of Iowa’s AEAs, said in a statement provided by Reynolds’ office.

Teachers and others who work in schools spend a great deal of time observing and interacting with the young people. They are remarkably well-placed to provide useful input regarding behavioral issues that may indicate underlying mental health problems. Mobilizing our state’s educators to help parents respond appropriately makes sense.

The Messenger strongly applauds this initiative. We agree with Reynolds that making sure that our state has an innovative mental health system in place to help young people receive appropriate care is an important goal. We commend the governor for leading this effort.