Report delivered to the governor

Every year, hundreds of mental health providers from multiple agencies, state legislators, and state departments work together to send a summarized report to the Governor’s office informing him of major issues that have affected children’s mental health this past year as well as recommendations that need his attention. This document, now in its fifteenth year, is compiled under the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP) and can be read in its entirety on their Facebook page or by visiting www.icmhp.org.

While it is not surprising, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent focus on social justice issues dominates a majority of this report. This report cites that as of the end of September, 13% of all COVID-19 cases are of individuals less than twenty years old and show similar demographic disparities as their adult counterparts (29% white, 29% Latinx, 26% did not disclose race, 10% Black, 4% Other, and 2% Asian). In addition to looking at the disparities, this group also highlighted subsets of situations where the COVID pandemic may exacerbate mental health concerns within our youth. These items include children currently receiving mental health issues, those engaged in the child welfare system, those residing in homes where domestic violence is presence, those currently in institutional placements, children who are homeless or involved in human trafficking, immigrants, and those affected by poverty.

In looking ahead, ICMHP has provided nine recommendations that the state should give its focus. These items (in no particular order of importance) are (1) Safety as it relates to COVID, (2) Communication regarding COVID, (3) Planning for Child COVID Vaccines, (4) teaching children about systemic racism, (5) continuing to modify the Juvenile Justice System, (6)reviewing school supports through Systemic Racism Lens, (7) improving Telehealth access, (8) addressing rising Youth Suicide, and (9) investing more into Family First Prevention Services.

While I don’t feel properly qualified to elaborate on the health-related information as it applies to COVID, I can expand on some of the additional items mentioned. Since March 16th, 2020, our agency has quickly pivoted to the implementation of telehealth, and we have seen youth respond very favorably to this new platform. It has improved access to care as well as maintained a safe transition for individuals to receive services while also ensuring safe physical distancing. Currently, we are allowed to utilize a cost-effective telehealth platform under Governor Pritzker’s current Executive Order, but a more sustainable answer needs to be identified by the state as we see this is a very useful tool.

Secondly, I’m so proud of our young people who are actively speaking up on social/racial justice issues. Hopefully, those who have been previously marginalized will no longer feel like they lack a voice or value.

Our social service agencies need to continue to make the proper accommodations so we can treat all youth equally and look to eradicate any barriers to treatment that may have been previously existed due to systemic blockades. Lastly, we do need to acknowledge and address the rising youth suicide numbers. According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics, there has been a 57% increase in suicide rates among youth ages 10 to 24. Locally, almost a third of all Piatt County students in 10th and 12th grade have acknowledged having suicidal ideations as self-reported in the 2020 Illinois Youth Survey.

In conclusion, our youth are not only important, but they are our future. We should continue to advocate for their wellness and grant them access the tools they need to cope in a very stressful world. By their own self-reports, they are acknowledging higher rates of suicidal ideations, anxiety, and depression than the generation before them. While our state may not be able to solve all nine recommended points in this report, a concerted effort must be demonstrated.

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