Texas health and human services commission to tackle youth mental health waitlist with new funding

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This article has been updated throughout.

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — More Texas kids will soon have access to mental health services after state lawmakers budgeted $2.5 million dollars for residential inpatient treatment.

Those services are so expensive that the new money only covers 10 more spaces. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it will now be able to fund 50 beds, up from 40, through its Residential Treatment Center Relinquishment Avoidance Project. An agency spokesperson said the additional funding means 19 more kids can be served. HHSC served 31 children and youth in Fiscal Year 2019.

“There are kids that are high risk in need and their families have exhausted all the community-based resources that exist and have been unsuccessful,” Sonja Gaines, Deputy Executive Commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities & Behavioral Health Services at HHSC, said.

Gaines said each kid spends approximately 6 months in the program, living at facilities around the state. Family maintains custody, giving the kids a greater chance to return home.

“While the child is in the residential treatment center, we have our local mental health authorities that are engaging very intensely with the family members to teach them some skills in terms of how can you work effectively with your child, how can you redirect them, also just some education and also information about the importance of medication compliance and following through on treatment and services,” Gaines said.

While Texas leaders tout the attention to this portion of the state, some mental health professionals said it was not enough.

“It’s long overdue,” Austin licensed professional counselor Amy Goodwin said. “I know we could do a lot better, but it’s a start, and I’ll take it.”

Goodwin said she was glad to see the state spend more on mental healthcare for kids, but added she hoped leaders don’t stop there.

“It is very expensive and so you do have to think of this as an investment,” she explained. “Mental health, there is no quick fix.”

Gaines said the treatment program’s 96% success rate was a key factor in the funding authorization. Now, the team can tackle the 17-person wait list.

“The ultimate goal is that at some point we need less of the service, because we are doing such a good job on an outpatient basis,” Gaines said. “So this is right now a need, it’s a part of our continuum of care and it definitely is giving us some positive outcomes.”

“You could talk about kids being involved in the juvenile justice system, you could talk about kids that are dropping out of school which has a long-term economic impact across Texas,” Gaines said. “When you think about a child that is at risk and not getting the help that they need, they are more likely to have greater problems that also have an impact on the family.”

Boosting funding to this treatment plan is part of HHSC’s dozen priorities the agency published in its 2020 “Blueprint for a Healthy Texas.”

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