Voices’ Blog

Children’s Mental Health Advocacy Day

Posted:  -  By: Cassie Price

We joined many other advocates to raise our voices in the Virginia General Assembly on Children’s Mental Health Advocacy Day, Feb. 5, 2018.

Our Talking Points

Our talking points focused on three advocacy efforts:

Implementation of an alternative to law-enforcement transportation for children and adults experiencing a mental health crisis

Currently, many children and adults experiencing a mental health crisis are transported to a stabilization facility by law enforcement under a temporary detention order (TDO). They often ride shackled and handcuffed in the back of a police car, which can further traumatize them.

We support an alternative method of TDO transportation, such as the one recently piloted in Southwest Virginia for adults in mental health crisis. The successful pilot did not rely on law enforcement, shackling, and handcuffing.

“The crisis transportation affects a lot of my clients,” said Rebecca Lowe, a clinical social worker in the Family Lifeline early childhood home visiting program. “Every time they are in crisis they ask me, ‘Please don’t call the police!’

“It’s a horrific way to try to take care of someone in a desperate situation. Transporting kids in handcuffs and shackles traumatizes everyone – kids, families, hospital staff.”

Implementation of the next phase of STEP-VA, the plan for improving statewide community-based mental health services for all ages.

We advocate for funding to ensure all 40 Virginia CSBs can provide same-day access and primary-care-screening services to people of all ages living with mental health conditions. Currently only 18 CSBs have the funding to do so.

Patricia Victorson, Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children public policy chairwoman and board member of NAMI Prince William, knows all too well the importance of accessing care quickly when a child is living with mental health conditions. Her son was diagnosed with a mental illness as an adolescent.

“Even if you have insurance, you still can’t get care, because there is a tremendous shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists in the state,” Victorson said. “Once when my son needed help, the first appointment we could get was four months away. My son had to be hospitalized before the appointment.

“Virginia is one of the worst states in the country in terms of helping children with mental health issues. Many end up in the juvenile justice system.”

Like Victorson, Daniel Rigsby, director of clinical and prevention services at the Henrico County Community Services Board, champions improvements to Virginia’s mental health system, including the provision of primary-care screening and same-day access at all state CSBs, as is already the case at the Henrico CSB.

“At the Henrico CSB, we see how physical health impacts mental health,” Rigsby said. “Sometimes people are more likely to seek help for physical health, and we can use that as a back door to getting them mental health services.

“Our primary care clinic is currently focused on adults and older teens. We want to be able to serve more children. We work closely in association with other organizations like public schools, Department of Social Services, and juvenile centers.”

Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance to nearly 400,000 low-income Virginia adults and to speed the implementation of STEP-VA.

We know adults who have health insurance are more likely to seek preventive health care for themselves and their children. Health insurance also contributes to overall family economic stability, which in turn results in better outcomes for children.

Genesee Little, a graduate student in the VCU School of Social Work and an intern with NAMI Virginia, drew on her personal experience in her advocacy for Medicaid expansion. She explained how her father’s inability to access mental health services affected her as a young child and her family as a whole.

“I realized through my experience growing up that policy dictates so much of what we do,” Little said. “Medicaid expansion could impact children and families in a positive way,” she said. More adults, including parents, would have the health coverage they need and further implementation of STEP-VA would ensure critical services are more readily available to more families.

Thanks to our advocates and legislators

The power of advocacy days lies in engaging constituents with their legislators, said Voices policy analyst Ashley Everette, who worked with partners NAMI Virginia, Mental Health America of Virginia, and VOCAL to coordinate Children’s Mental Health Advocacy Day (CMHAD).

“We prepare advocates with talking points about the budget amendments that impact mental health services so they can connect their stories with our mental health priorities,” Everette said.

“The kids don’t have a voice, so it’s important for [us] to advocate for them,” Lowe added. “Voices helps give all of us a voice—otherwise it’s so fragmented, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

We thank all our advocates and all the legislators who met with us on CMHAD, including Dels. Lashrecse Aird, Hyland Fowler, T. Scott Garrett, Chris Hurst, Riley Ingram, Matthew James, Christopher Stolle, and Cheryl Turpin; and Sens. George Barker, Rosalyn Dance, R. Creigh Deeds, Siobhan Dunnavant and Janet Howell. A special thank-you goes to Sen. Deeds for welcoming the CMHAD advocates to the Senate chamber.

Read our CMHAD talking points.







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