INDIANAPOLIS | Twenty-five Indiana children are receiving mental health services as part of state officials' pledge to close a funding gap, said an Indiana Department of Child Services official.
A pilot version of a plan formulated last year now exists in 11 Indiana counties — Elkhart, St. Joseph, Dearborn, Ohio, Switzerland, Franklin, Decatur, Ripley, Boone, Hamilton and Madison.
"It really seems to be working," said Lisa Rich, DCS deputy director of services and outcomes. "The families are really happy to have the services. It's filling a gap for the families and the communities."
Seventy-seven families have been referred into the program since it started, Rich said. Of those, 25 children are receiving services paid by DCS as part of its pledge to close the funding gap. Those figures were current as of April 25.
Joshua Sprunger, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana, said the pilot program has been a "big step in the right direction." He credited state officials for helping some families in obtaining needed mental health services.
But Sprunger said there still is a treatment gap for children who have severe mental illnesses and can't participate in their own treatment. Just because a child is referred and can qualify for treatment doesn't mean it will work, he said.
A Times investigation published last year found a multiagency failure to provide intensive services to some children with severe mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. Children who do not receive needed services may enter the court system as juvenile delinquents or as children in need of services.
In some cases, The Times learned, parents — who were dedicated to seeking care for their children — admitted to neglect only to secure state services.
Officials developed a plan last year to supply children with needed services without court intervention. The participating agencies are DCS, the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Indiana Department of Education, juvenile courts and prosecutors' offices.
The plan calls for school officials, community members, judges, probation officers, prosecutors and public defenders to refer children in need of mental health services to a community mental health center access site. The site evaluates children's levels of need.
Under the plan, families of children who meet the level of need and are eligible for Medicaid will be referred to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction. DCS agreed to pay for the services for children whose families are not eligible for Medicaid, or whose private insurance will not cover the cost.
Families of children who do not meet the level of need will be referred to DCS' community partners program for services, according to the agency.
Other children still are moving through the process or were not accepted because they already had access to services through probation departments, Medicaid or child in need of services petitions, also known as CHINS, Rich said. She said some parents also refused to participate in the program.
DCS' Rich said state officials are closely watching the pilot program and modifying it to ensure it meets children's needs.
The mental health alliance's Sprunger said state officials also need to continue collaborating with juvenile justice officials to divert children with mental illnesses out of the justice system and into treatment.
It still is unclear how much DCS' program will cost once it is implemented statewide. Initially, DCS officials said it could cost up to $25 million to provide needed services.
Rich said the program is still too new to provide updated cost projections. She said the program will continue to roll out statewide in 2013.