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Texas Lawmakers Hear Testimony On Mental Healthcare For Children

Ryan E. Poppe

The Texas Legislature provided an additional $244 million in funding to state agencies involved with assessing and treating mental health issues among children and teenagers.   But according to the House-Select Committee on Mental Health, much of that money is not being utilized by families whose children may be suffering from some form of mental illness.

Dr. Anu Partap is a pediatrician specializing in the treatment of foster children with mental and behavioral issues.  She told the committee that behavioral health disorders are the top conditions causing childhood impairments at home, in school and among friends.

“It’s estimated that 500,000 Texas children and adolescents have severe emotional disturbance and 1 in 5 U.S. school-age children have symptoms meeting criteria for mental illness," Partap said.

Partap told the committee, generally pediatricians and physicians are the first line of defense in identifying these disorders but are unprepared to address a child’s mental illness.  She said the state needs to develop referral networks that quickly link parents and physicians and hospitals to mental health specialists and crisis intervention teams.

“For every condition except mental illness, I know my patient will receive everything he needs to function, recover and rehabilitate.  For mental illness one or more of these steps is delayed.  Integrated care sounds like everything needs to be in the same building but what it really does is give you a hug so that you know who your community partners are and they know how to find the families they can serve," Partap explained.

The committee will continue to examine the issue of families accessing mental health care and possibly designing legislation that integrates Texas’ healthcare and mental health care system during the 2017 legislative session.