In the words of our Executive Director’s son:
“Physical health is important, but if you aren’t mentally ok then the physical stuff doesn’t matter so your behavioral health is what’s really important.”
There’s no question that many of Nebraska’s children and youth face behavioral health issues. However, putting an exact number is difficult due to both underreporting and changing definitions. Generally, behavioral health problems can be defined as problems experienced by children that disrupt their ability to develop normally, to form healthy relationships, and to effectively cope with problems.
Access to appropriate and adequate children’s behavioral health services is necessary to ensuring that all of Nebraska’s children have the opportunity to grow into healthy, productive adults.
In 2009, the implementation of LB603 was a step towards addressing the behavioral health challenges children and youth face and the gaps in services that were revealed by the Safe Haven crisis. However, with an estimated 90,000 children in the state with a behavioral health challenge, there are still children that are not being served.
The National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs estimates that in Nebraska:
- 9,263 children have anxiety disorders,
- 7,770 children have behavioral or conduct problems,
- 4,636 children suffer from depression,
- 15,870 children have ADD or ADHD.
As Nebraska continues to make necessary changes in the support system for at risk children, challenges still exist in getting the right services. Further reform is necessary so that all children can access the care they need without having to enter our formal child welfare or juvenile justice system.
The Nebraska Legislature will attempt to address some of these issues through LB556. This bill, introduced by Senator Amanda McGill would include behavioral health screenings in the already required school physical examinations before kindergarten and seventh grade and an additional screening in the ninth grade. The bill would also allow telehealth services to occur in the school, reducing the time children are out of the classroom and allowing parents to access healthcare for their children without the worry of work-related issues such as requesting time off.