This week, a group of people involved in all aspects of child mental health care in Vermont met in Shelburne to share ideas and visions about how to improve access and quality of behavioral healthcare for Vermont families. The group included parents of children struggling with emotional behavioral problems, counselors, psychiatrists, primary care clinicians, educators, and leaders from many community mental health centers, among others. The project was sponsored jointly by the United Way and Fletcher Allen after child mental health care was identified an a particular area of need.
Small groups first discussed the hopes and goals we had for children and their families, with solid agreement that mental health meant much more than simply an absence of symptoms. From there, specific priorities and strategies to help children thrive were explored. In my own view, what seemed to rise to the top for many people was the idea that resources needed to be more focused on supporting entire families who are often under great stress. Another common theme was to use technology to allow both families and those in the mental health community to see in one place what types of programs, providers, and other types resources might be available. Related to this concept was the idea to improve the coordination and information sharing from one organization to the next.
One often acknowledged obstacle to these lofty ideas is funding, as it was widely recognized that increasing access, reducing waitlists, and extending the reach of this hard working community all require child mental health to be recognized as a priority when it comes to budgetary decisions.
This meeting was viewed as an important first step that will lead to future dialogue and hopefully specific action to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable Vermonters and their families that are greatly in need of support.