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Testimony: Oversight Hearing for Department of Mental Health (FY12)

Judith Sandalow, executive director of Children’s Law Center, testified before the DC Council’s Committee on Health at a hearing to review the performance of the Department of Mental Health. Her testimony focused on the lack of appropriate mental health services for children, which our attorneys often say is a major barrier to the success of the children they represent. Read a summary below or review her full testimony as submitted to the committee.

Sandalow noted that the Department of Mental Health has pilored several good programs for children, but a comparison with national data suggests that there are almost 5,000 children who need mental health services but don’t receive them. Underlying structural problems need to be solved before the pilot programs can be efficiently expanded, and DC is still lacking many important mental health services for children, including: treatment foster care, intensive day treatment programs; therapeutic after-school and summer school programs; and integrated mental health and substance abuse services for youth with co-occurring disorders.

The Department of Mental Health and the District as a whole must address the fragmentation and complexity that makes DC’s Medicaid-funded mental health system unattractive to high-quality mental health providers. A shortage of providers means that children fail to get needed treatment or face delays that impair their health. “Too often children go without services or treatment until a crisis arises,” Sandalow stated in her written testimony. “Crisis care is extremely disruptive to children and families and also costs the system significantly more than less-intrusive mental health care.”