Connecting state and local government leaders
For some families, it can take more than a decade to connect children to appropriate mental health resources once they show symptoms. Amid a growing youth mental health crisis, one state is developing an online portal to shave that wait time down.
As the mental health crisis continues to worsen in the U.S., especially among teens and children, one Illinois lawmaker highlighted the grim gap many families face between needing care and getting care.
Once a child shows symptoms of a mental health condition, like depression or anxiety, it could take 11 years before they’re actually connected to the support and resources they need, said Democratic Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, chair of the state’s bipartisan Mental Health and Addiction Committee, during a press conference Monday.
The mental health system can have many barriers to access, such as exorbitant costs for therapy sessions or medications. And for some families, it can be a herculean task just navigating the myriad mental health agencies and services to determine which option is the best for their child.
That needs to change, LaPointe said, because “no matter what insurance coverage you have, where you live in Illinois, no matter if your family isn’t used to dealing with or never has to deal with acute mental health struggles … nothing about that 11-year gap from when you start struggling to when you get connected to support is acceptable.”
That’s why the Illinois Department of Human Services is partnering with Google Public Sector to develop a secure, user-friendly online portal called Behavioral Health Care and Ongoing Navigation, or BEACON. The artificial intelligence- and cloud-based platform is the first of its kind in the nation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, and will help eliminate the “decentralized, difficult-to-navigate behavioral health resources scattered across different agencies, providers and websites.”
The portal will serve as a central location where families, counselors, caseworkers, educators and other stakeholders in children’s mental health can find necessary resources and services, like service and program eligibility information and assistance in navigating mental health resources, Pritzker said. It will streamline families’ access to state services, whether they are engaged with the Department of Human Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Public Health or the Illinois State Board of Education, officials said in a statement Monday. BEACON is slated to launch this summer.
Using the portal, individuals can apply for mental health resources and services and upload documents to eliminate the requirement of submitting the same information repeatedly when applying to several individual agencies, Pritzker said. It will also serve as a directory of behavioral resources while the state builds a statewide system, he said.
“Families that previously had to navigate multiple paths telling the story of their youth’s challenges dozens of time in the hope that a door to services would open now will have an option for a single, centralized place to go for help,” said Dana Weiner, chief of the state’s Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative, a program to improve children’s behavioral health services that launched early last year.
The initiative recommended five goals to improve youths’ mental health, and the portal delivers on the first, which is to streamline processes to make services easier to access, officials said.
The other recommendations call for the state to adjust capacity to ensure resources reach youths in need, intervene earlier to prevent the development of mental health crises, increase accountability to ensure a transparent mental health system and develop mental health programs and services that can adapt to the changing needs of youths.
“We started [the initiative] because we need a system that makes it easier for families to be able to access quality behavioral health care for their children," said Elizabeth M. Whitehorn, director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services. "This new portal is a giant step forward to simplify the process for families by giving them one entry point to seek services through the state.”