The Children’s Mental Health Network had a productive meeting last week with Congressman Tim Murphy to discuss the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 3717). Joining me in the meeting was Advisory Council member Lisa Lambert, Executive Director of the Parent Professional Advocacy League, Boston, MA, Ruth Fox, Executive Director, and Maria Silva of the Allegheny Family Network, Pittsburgh, PA.
Our "ask" for the meeting was that Congressman Murphy listen to families of children with mental health challenges offer their perspective on what is needed to improve services and supports both for young people with serious emotional challenges as well as those with less severe mental health challenges.
For over an hour we dialogued about the experiences of families and the importance of family-to-family support - regardless of diagnosis - from the initial sign of difficulty throughout the treatment process. I must say, the Congressman was attentive, asked a ton of questions, and maybe most important, agreed to meet with families from the Allegheny Family Network to get a better sense of how important family and peer-to-peer support is.
There were several important take-aways from this meeting that will guide the Children's Mental Health Network as this bill moves forward. Note: There is also a Democratic bill that was introduced last week. More on that this coming Friday.
- The voice of families who have children with emotional challenges has been missing in the ongoing discussion of HR 3717
Maybe the most important takeaway is that from our perspective, in all of the discussion about HR 3717 over the past year, the voice of families who have children with emotional challenges has been virtually silent. We hope to end that silence. We have the utmost respect for our colleagues in the adult consumer movement, but just as the heated dialogue from the key proponents of the Murphy bill has dominated the press, so has some of the heated dialogue from the recovery community. In between are discussions that allow for civil disagreement and hopefully some movement from each end of the continuum. But the voices of families who have children with serious emotional challenges? Virtually non-existent.
- We need to show through action the power of family-to-family and peer-to-peer support
It was no accident that the construction of the visit team to Congressman Murphy's office included myself, an Advisory Council member (also a family member) with extensive research background on family involvement and two leaders of the Pittsburgh based Allegheny Family Network, one of the most successful family support organizations in the nation. We can't just talk about what is needed to improve HR 3717 (or any bill for that matter) we have to show it. As mentioned above, Congressman Murphy has agreed to meet with families and youth from the Allegheny Family Network. In addition, the Parent Professional Advocacy League will share data collected from families showing what works and what is needed to improve services and supports before a situation develops to a crisis stage.
- There are families with children in deep crisis who need help now
We are big proponents of the recovery movement and have written about numerous examples of successful strategies for helping individuals take a self-directed approach to getting better. But what does that mean for those families and youth who are in a different place? A more dangerous place? How should the Children's Mental Health Network respond to emails from Network faithful who are frightened by their child when he or she is in a psychotic state, scared for the safety of siblings, others or themselves? If you listen to those parents they will tell you that national advocacy groups are not speaking on their behalf - in fact, many will tell you their pleas are being stifled by the tide of support for a self-directed approach to care and recovery. The Children's Mental Health Network prides itself on being a collective voice. If we are going to practice what we preach we need to embrace the voices of families of children in serious crisis just as fervently as we do those families who have children with less serious challenges.
- Every negotiation begins with a starting point, and this was ours
I want to be crystal clear - we were upfront with the Congressman that as the bill is currently written we could not give a full endorsement. There are many wonderful things in the bill but there are also some elements that are quite troublesome to us. However, we are impressed that Congressman Murphy has been out front for the past year trying to address some of the serious challenges facing the mental health service delivery system. We realize that instead of sitting on the sidelines we need to be firmly in the game. It is on us that we have let almost a year go by just providing commentary. No more. We are gassing up the truck and heading to DC as often as we can to put a face on the complex needs of families who have children and adolescents with serious emotional challenges.
Serious props to Congressman Murphy for not only being willing to listen to our perspective but also willing to take the additional step of meeting with families from the Allegheny Family Network. Small steps Network faithful – We talk a lot about the disappointment in the most polarized Congress since Reconstruction. If our actions mirror that polarization then we are no better. The Children's Mental Health Network cannot let that happen and we count on you Network faithful to keep us focused on our guiding mission of being a collective voice for children's mental health.
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network