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Mental Health

DCF Unveils Comprehensive Behavioral Health Plan for Connecticut's Children

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Kelley Conkling
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Creative Commons

The State Department of Children and Families has released a draft plan designed to better meet the behavioral and mental health needs of Connecticut children. The plan is required under legislation passed last year by the General Assembly in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

According to DCF, there are approximately 156,000 children in Connecticut in need of mental health services. Access to these services varies depending on factors such as geographic location, insurance status, race and culture, and involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice system.

For the past nine months, DCF has held dozens of of forums, getting feedback on how the current system of identifying and treating behavioral and mental health problems can be improved. The draft of the Connecticut Children's Behavioral Health Plan identified a number of factors that serve as a barrier to a continuum of mental health care, and lays out a series of goals to eliminate these barriers.

DCF's Kristina Stevens said that perhaps the most important strategy is early detection and intervention for all children. "There's been a lot of conversation both within the state and nationally around universal screening and early childhood screening," she said. "Predominantly, what families talked about is normative settings where kids spend a lot of their time. So within their pediatrician practices, with schools, within early child care, and home visiting, that those are community-based localized settings which children are a part of every single day."

The plan calls for additional training for pediatricians, teachers and caregivers to identify potential mental health problems, and the consolidation of duplicate mental health services among various agencies. DCF expects to implement the plan over the next five years.

The final draft of the plan will be submitted to the General Assembly next month. Citizens who want to submit feedback on the draft plan can do so though the plan's website, plan4children.org.