Note: This Zen piece was written before the President had signed the Omnibus bill. The bill has now been signed so it is official - Healthy Transitions Initiative is included at $20 million.
As Network faithful know, we have been leading the charge for the House and Senate to pay closer attention to the needs of young adults with emotional challenges as they have worked tirelessly to craft a challenging omnibus spending bill. Our specific area of focus was around the Healthy Transitions Initiative (HTI). Countless Network faithful sent letters of support; stories about the benefits of services and supports for young adults and first-person accounts of how approaches like those found in the Healthy Transitions Initiative had made a significant difference in their lives.
*(Click on "Healthy Transitions" to read the chronology of our activities dating back to August 3rd, 2013.)
Network faithful efforts appear to have had an impact as we have potentially really good news on this front. It appears that the Healthy Transitions Initiative has made it back in to the bill at the 20 million dollar level. Yes, it is not the 25 million originally proposed but in these fiscally challenged times it is definitely something to celebrate. Please remember that nothing is certain until the ink from the President's pen dries after he signs off - hopefully tomorrow. But for now, the collective voice of the Children's Mental Health Network should give a hearty pat on each others back for your commitment to speaking out. We are especially appreciative of the young people from across the country that sent in heartfelt messages of support.
I was fortunate to be able to speak on the phone and visit with Senate Appropriations staff over the past few months and have lost count of the number of email and phone messages that I have sent. On one of the visits I was accompanied by Raphael Alexander of Youth M.O.V.E. National, who did what only a young person can do - make it real. The purpose of these visits was to find out how we could help educate decision-makers about the breadth of experience of young adults with mental health challenges as a way to balance what has been written about in the national media as a result of the multiple horrific school shootings this past year. Guns + violence does not equal mental illness has been our mantra. We know that only a small percentage of young adults with mental health challenges are violent and in fact are more likely to be the victims of violence. We focused not just on HTI but also the much broader topic of the multiple strategies and innovative efforts taking place to meet the needs of youth in transition - from those services needed for youth in highly acute situations to those types of services needed for those who just need a nudge. Our message to staffers was that we were in this for the long haul and wanted to do whatever necessary to provide better education on the depth and breadth of services options for youth in transition.
So all that being said, we have an important challenge ahead of us. If the President signs off tomorrow it is an indication that the Executive Branch and the Congress are placing their faith in national efforts to improve services and supports for youth in transition. That means it is on us folks. We have got to show strong evidence that an initiative like Healthy Transitions can make a difference. Evaluators, social marketers, providers, families and youth will need to work collaboratively even more than they already have to battle the pervasive misperception of who young adults with mental health challenges are.
On that note, one of the exciting results of our meetings with Appropriations staff was their agreement to visit a variety of programs that work with youth in transition. The CMHNetwork is working with organizations, youth and families in Maryland to coordinate a visit that will facilitate an up-close-and-personal conversation about the variety of resource options for young adults with emotional challenges, from the most severe to those who are just needing some support. We are tentatively looking at February for this meeting and hope to have an agenda to share with the Network very soon. House Appropriations staff are being invited as well. A special thank you to our Maryland partners for stepping up. On behalf of Network faithful across the US, Canada and a growing following in countries across the globe, a hearty congratulations to you all!
Next steps? No celebrating until this is done so we need to wait until tomorrow. But regardless of whatever happens with this bill, the challenge given to you remains the same - we need to step up our education about the vibrancy, brilliance, complex and affirming nature of youth in transition. We have much to be proud or regarding this next generation of leaders. It is our responsibility to ensure that they have what they need to make the next step into healthy adulthood.
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network