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More Mental-Health Treatment Sought For Children

Woman addressing classroom full of children
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida has an estimated 400,000 children who need behavioral-health services, but 55 percent of them don’t get any treatment, members of a health-care panel were told Thursday. 

That translates to 220,000 children across the state, or about one child in every classroom, health official Jeffrey Brosco told members of the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. Board of Directors during a meeting in Orlando.

“There’s 220,000 children that get no treatment, whatsoever. Let that sink in,” Brosco told the board members, who are charged with running the Florida Healthy Kids program, which offers health and dental insurance for children ages 5 through 18.

“If I told you there were 200 kids with cancer who aren’t getting treatment, you’d say, ‘That’s outrageous.’ Two thousand, twenty thousand, you would be up in arms,” he said adding, “It’s outrageous.”

Part of the problem, Brosco said, is a lack of availability of health providers. According to Brosco’s presentation, Florida has one psychiatrist who treats children and adolescents for every 100,000 children.

Brosco is director of Florida’s “Title V” funding program, which supports efforts to improve the health and well-being of mothers and children, including children with special needs, and their families.

Brosco wants to use the Title V program to help build regional collaboratives anchored by schools including Florida State University, Florida International University, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Miami.

Florida has $20 million in Title V money this fiscal year, and Brosco said he wants to target $9 million to help establish the regional collaboratives.

Through the collaboratives, Brosco hopes to help increase the capacity of primary-care providers such as pediatricians, family doctors and advanced registered nurse practitioners to identify and treat what Brosco called common pediatric mental-health conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, anxiety and depression.

Another way to increase access is through telehealth consultation services, Brosco said. Generally, telehealth involves using the internet and other technology to provide health care remotely to patients.

Access to mental-health services has drawn heavy attention in the Legislature since the mass shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people. Attention this year also focused on the suicides of two students who had survived the shooting at the Broward County school.

Lawmakers this month approved a 2019-2020 state budget that includes $75 million for mental-health services at schools, a boost from the $64 million given to school districts for the current year. The money is linked to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed after last year’s shooting.

Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis also has made mental health one of her priorities and earlier this month announced what she calls the Hope for Healing campaign. The campaign will pull in resources from the state Department of Education, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice to help youths and families avert drug addiction and address mental-health issues.