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State commission hopes to shorten waiting lists for kids in need of services

Nearly one thousand children are waiting for mental and behavioral health care services in Maine.

A new commission is scheduled to start work next month to find ways to provide services to children waiting for crucial services.

Right now, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are 486 children waiting for Section 65 services and 619 waiting for Section 28. Some children may be on both wait lists. 

The services are covered by MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program.

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Jenn Brooking has two children on the Autism spectrum. Both qualify to work with a behavioral health professional known as a BHP. They are trained to help children with developmental disabilities learn how function in everyday life -- services that have been key to helping 16-year-old Alli become more independent. But now those skills that took years to build are fading.

Providers say low reimbursement rates have made it difficult to hire and train staff to work with children with developmental disabilities and children with several mental health problems.

Brooking has sounded the alarm about the growing crisis -- testifying before lawmakers in Augusta.

"For years, parents, families and individuals, and agencies have been telling the state that's what we need -- better pay, better training," says Brooking.

A commission made up of lawmakers, parents, providers and DHHS officials hopes to move kids off the wait lists, possibly by tapping federal funding. One proposal could be having DHHS employees train staff that work with children with behavioral health care needs -- a practice that used to take place before the LePage administration.

The commission will report back to the legislature in January. 

"The Department looks forward to working with the commission to rebuilding the children's behavioral health system by collaborating on the soon to be released 13 different strategies -- recommendations identified in an assessment that was completed at the end of last year."

Click here for information on the Children's Behavioral Health Care Services Assessment.

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