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Testimony: Oversight Hearing for Department of Mental Health and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services 2013

Executive Director Judith Sandalow testified before the DC Council’s Committee on Health at a combined oversight hearing for both the Department of Mental Health and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. Read a summary below or review the full testimony as submitted to the committee.

Department of Mental Health

The Department of Mental Health has continued to build and improve individual programs and practices; credit is due to director Steve Baron and Marie Morilus-Black, director of child and youth services at DMH. However, DC children still struggle to access high-quality mental health services. The basic framework of a high-functioning children’s mental health system is still missing. It’s difficult to assess even how many children are receiving mental health services, let alone whether those are enough and appropriate services for each child. Even as evidence-based practices practices grow and specialty providers offer more treatment slots, a lack of coordination means these slots aren’t filled despite the high need. 

Even the progress that DMH has made cannot truly take root until DMH and the District address the fragmentation and complexity of the children’s mental health system. No one agency is responsible for fixing these problems, but recently DMH has been working closely with the Department of Health Care Finance to ensure new managed care organizations do a better job providing mental health services. DMH has also begun working closer with the Child and Family Services Agency to screen foster children for mental health needs, although more screenings need to be done. DMH needs to improve timeliness and quality of services in addition to access.


Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services

Children’s Law Center advocated for the creation of this office, and Deputy Mayor BB Otero’s role is critical in improving the coordination of services by many agencies that deliver services to children and their families. Children’s mental health is one issue that crosses agency boundaries – the Department of Mental Health plays a large role, but many of Children’s Law Center’s young clients receive their mental health services through Medicaid managed care organizations, which are monitored by the Department of Health Care Finance. The Deputy Mayor’s position allows her to ensures coordination between these agencies, keep track of outcomes and funding, and guide reinvestment in services and supports for children and families.