Failed Promise? SEA 529 Plan — Children’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Health Plan

At the August 7, 2013, meeting of the Commission on Mental Health and Addiction, several organizations testified about the need to revisit “the 529 Plan” concerning mentally ill children.  Specifically, Kevin Moore, Director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, noted that access to mental health treatment in the juvenile justice system remains a challenge.   See the meeting notes here.

On July 1, 2005, SEA 529 became law, which included the Children’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Health Plan — often called “the 529 Plan.”  IC 20-19-5 called for the Department of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Child Services, the Department of Correction, and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, to develop and coordinate the 529 Plan, including providing recommendations concerning comprehensive mental health services, early intervention, and treatment services for individuals from birth through twenty-two years of age.

In 2006, an implementation plan was developed with several long-term goals.  The plan is available here.

It is striking that so many of the identified barriers from the 2006 implementation plan remain barriers in how mental health services are delivered today in Indiana, including:

  1. Funding for mental health services,
  2. Coordination between agencies,
  3. Lack of adequate support for groups involved in the delivery and receipt of mental health services in Indiana,
  4. The stigma associated with mental illness, and
  5. Lack of early recognition of mental health problems in young children, and the lack of accessible early childhood mental health interventions.

One indicator of how the plan became stagnant is to look to testimony by a representative from the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) at the August meeting, who noted that the DOE has lost institutional memory concerning the 529 Plan due to staff turnover.  Yet, DOE was required by SEA 529 to develop and coordinate the plan.

Yes, it is time to take another look at the 529 Plan and find a way to better serve our mentally ill children.

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