Children’s Mental Health Reform

When we look at the state of children’s mental health services in Idaho, we see challenges, but we also see great opportunities. By and large, Idaho is a state of small communities, of tight-knit neighborhoods where people learn to care for and about each other. That is the foundation on which we hope to help build long-needed changes to the way our children receive mental health help.

With the Children’s Mental Health Reform plan as its guide and with support from advocacy groups and citizens, the state of Idaho has an opportunity to begin building what we foresee as a national model for the delivery of mental health care to children—a system that will improve our communities, prevent suicides and incarcerations, and keep families together.

Idaho has an almost four-decade history of trying to bring mental health service to the children of our beautiful state. Since the early 1980s, advocates for the state’s children have tried to correct a lack of mental health services that has resulted in the undue suffering of children. At its worst, such suffering included the involuntary placement of children in institutional settings, including placement in adult psychiatric wards with sex offenders and dangerous criminals.

In 1980, children’s advocates filed a lawsuit against the state for failure to create a mental health system for children. That lawsuit resulted in a 1983 court order to force Idaho to provide adequate mental health services for children. As a part of this court order, Idaho was required to develop an Implementation Plan. But the State never adequately funded the plan, and very little improvement occurred.

In 1990 and 1998, the courts issued new orders for subsequent Implementation Plans, neither of which was fulfilled by the State.

In 2011, child advocates once again got together to represent an anonymous adolescent client named “Jeff D” and all Idaho children with mental health disorders. The representatives appealed Idaho’s lack of action to the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit Court determined that Idaho had indeed failed to fulfill its obligation to provide the children of Idaho with appropriate mental health care.

In 2013, the representative and the State of Idaho agreed to set aside continued litigation and enter into a negotiation process. The result was a tremendous effort to create an outstanding comprehensive mental health plan for Idaho’s children. Parent groups, state agencies, and top mental health experts spent countless hours over several months to come to the Jeff D. Settlement Agreement.

In June 2015, Idaho Governor Otter signed the Jeff D Settlement Agreement to improve access to mental health services for thousands of Idaho youth. This agreement lead to the creation of the “Children’s Mental Health Reform (CMHR)” Plan. When fully implemented, Idaho’s CMHR plan will fix Idaho’s broken children’s mental healthcare system and make Idaho the Flagship model for children’s mental healthcare across the United States. It is within our grasp and will be another of the long list of qualities that make Idaho the Gem State. But we need your support to make CMHR a reality.

What is Idaho Youth Advocates doing to improve access to mental health services for Idaho’s children?

  • Working with Idaho Health & Welfare to implement Children’s Mental Health Reform (CMHR) and the Jeff D Settlement Agreement.
  • Educating the general public, patients and families, mental health providers, educators, juvenile justice system, and the State Legislature about CMHR and their roles in it.
  • Advocating on behalf of the children of Idaho to make sure that CMHR is implemented correctly and in a timely manner.
  • Partnering with other advocacy organizations invested in CMHR to advocate for our children in this upcoming legislative budget session.
  • Training community primary care physicians to become mental health providers, through the Reach Institute, in order to meet the mental health workforce shortage in Idaho.