Insight from the SAMHSA Advisory Meeting – Shaping our focus…

August 30, 2011

Thanks to all of the Children’s Mental Health Network members who listened in on the August 16th SAMHSA Advisory Committees meeting. (Note: We will post transcripts of the meeting as soon as we receive them). As always, your support is much appreciated. Since that meeting, we’ve had some interesting dialogues that resulted in creating a list of short-term priorities. Some are about us and some are about how to help SAMHSA move forward. Read about our priority focus areas and see how you might get involved and support the effort…

Children’s Mental Health Network – Priority Areas of Focus

 Keep it Up

  • Your Voice Counts -Our recent campaign to get system of care language inserted into the Unified Application was recognized at the opening of the SAMHSA Advisory Committees meeting. SAMHSA seems to be genuinely interested in stakeholder input, especially from consumers, family members and ordinary citizens who care – hey, that’s us! Make sure you sign up for our Twitter and RSS feeds so you can be ready for action. We anticipate we’ll be calling on you soon.

Getting Our House in Order

  • Push for Special Focus on Children and Adolescents at the Next SAMHSA Advisory Committee Meeting – At the recent Advisory meeting, the SAMHSA Administrator indicated that perhaps there should be a special focus on children and youth at the next Advisory meeting. We need to do everything in our power to help this thought become reality. We have set up a SAMHSA Advisory Committee Focus area on the website where you can share your thoughts about children’s mental health issues you would like to see addressed at the next meeting. We will use this feedback to formulate a list of key topics that should drive the next SAMHSA Advisory meeting discussion. SAMHSA is clearly moving forward. We can choose to be in front of the train, hanging on to the caboose for dear life, or helping to drive the train. Let’s help drive the train!

    Using this forum and others in the future, let’s help SAMHSA define what is next for the Children’s Mental Health Initiative cooperative agreement program based on our collective wisdom and experience. We are an alliance of citizens from across the United States, the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico with a growing number of international supporters. Let’s pool our individual voices and make a collective statement about the importance of system of care values and principles and service delivery approaches that we know work.

  • Clarify Our Message – It is increasingly clear that we need to do a better job promoting our message that “children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges and their families need support.” Our emphasis is on promoting the values and principles of a system of care approach. Unfortunately, some continue to interpret this to mean a thing or specific project, which of course, it is not…it’s a way of being. We will be calling on our social marketing friends for guidance on this one!
  • Let’s Not Forget History – Remember the days when we spoke about transformation? Remember the President’s New Freedom Commission Report (Complete Report / Executive Summary)?  We don’t hear too much about those things these days. We get it that when Administrations change they bring in new ideas. The Obama Administration came in with a clear charge to not do business as usual. We support this, and Health and Human Services has done some amazing things in the past few years. However, let’s not forget the solid work of the past. It is incumbent upon us to keep the President’s New Freedom Commission and lessons learned from efforts to transform mental health care in America alive as we move forward.

Supporting Others to Get Their House in Order

  • Support and Promote Innovation and Change – Innovation and change are popular descriptors among SAMHSA leadership. What could be more innovative and change-oriented than the system of care approach? As we encourage SAMHSA to maintain a focus on children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges and their families, we need to showcase how this movement has served as a laboratory of innovation and change for over 25 years. We need to highlight how systems of care exemplify innovation and change with proven results and that efforts that fully embrace these values and principles can provide the foundation for future innovative initiatives emanating from federal government.
  • Reinstate a “Senior Advisor for Children” at SAMHSA – One of the beneficial actions of a previous SAMHSA Administrator was the establishment of a Senior Advisor for Children to the Administrator of the SAMHSA. The value this position brought to SAMHSA with respect to collaboration, communication and continuity of effort in policy and planning was a welcome development. It appears that a position solely dedicated to this purpose no longer exists. While we are not interested in dictating the SAMHSA organizational structure, we do feel strongly that this role and function should be defined and reinstated. 
  • Help SAMHSA Know What Helps Children, Adolescents and Families – Under the leadership of Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, HHS has prioritized public access to information and citizen input. Let’s capitalize on this spirit of openness by helping SAMHSA better understand what works. They need to better understand the impacts of the CMHI that don’t necessarily get measured. Four specific examples (of a much larger list) include:
    • Statewide Family Networks – The Statewide Family Network Program, which  has been in existence since the mid-1980’s, beginning under the direction of the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, is a great example of how families can mobilize with little funding to ensure a family-driven approach to improving mental health services for children, adolescents and their families. The grant program began with grants around $25,000 per year and, over the course of twenty-five years, has risen to a paltry $60,000 per year plus an additional $10,000 per year for youth involvement. Despite a growth in funding that works out to approximately a “raise” of about $1,400 per year, Statewide Family Networks continue to be the glue that ensures family voice in system of care development efforts. (Click here for a good read on Family and Youth Voice in Systems of Care by Friesen, Koroloff, Walker and Briggs)
    • Youth M.O.V.E National – This youth-led national movement is devoted to improving services and systems that support positive growth and development by uniting the voices of individuals who have lived experience in various systems including mental health, juvenile justice, education, and child welfare. I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit communities across the nation that are working to improve services and supports for children and families. More and more, I am hearing youth talk about organizing and becoming a part of Youth M.O.V.E. National. There are big things ahead for this movement.
    • Building Bridges – A direct result of the CMHI, Building Bridges was designed to address the historical tensions between residential and community-based service providers and systems, and to find ways to better integrate and link residential (out-of-home) and community-based services and supports. This effort has grown to over 80 partners from across the country who have endorsed the Joint Resolution and are actively working to advance system of care and Building Bridges principles in residential and community-based settings. Click here for a powerpoint overview of the Building Bridges initiative.
    • Class Action lawsuits – Over the past 25 years or so, a number of class action lawsuits have incorporated the values and principles of a system of care approach to effect change. (For more information, take a look at: Bringing about Systems of Change Through Class-Action Lawsuits – Behar, Tucker, Groves)

As you can see, we have much to do. If you want to be a part of the dialogue that is helping to shape our message, sign up and become a member of the Children’s Mental Health Network, share your comments, follow our Tweets and RSS feed and become involved.

Scott Bryant-Comstock
Executive Director
Children’s Mental Health Network

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