Over 43,000 children in Winnebago County alone rely on medical assistance programs, including Medicaid[1], to provide for their physical and mental health needs. In addition, children in foster care receive Medicaid benefits regardless of the income of their families. With substantial cuts to Medicaid pending at the federal level, providers are concerned about the state’s ability to meet the growing demand for mental health services created by the trauma of community violence and the opioid crisis.

On June 13, staff from Children’s Home + Aid and Rosecrance hosted state legislators, Representative Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) and Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), for a conversation on the mental health needs of children and families in the greater Rockford area.

In addition to a two-year state budget crisis that has left some providers without funding, Illinois’ Medicaid rates have not kept pace with the increasing costs of providing services – including maintaining a robust workforce and implementing billing systems that work with a variety of insurance plans. In the Rockford area, below-cost Medicaid reimbursement rates have resulted in a threadbare service system.

Very few providers serve low-income families or children involved in the child welfare system. As a result, children and youth can wait 6 months or more to see a psychiatrist or therapist. For a person with a serious condition, living without medication or therapy for that length of time could mean deterioration to the point of hospitalization or incarceration, or worse, self harm or suicide. For children in foster care, untreated behavioral health needs can lead to disrupted foster home placements or the need for 24-hour residential care.

Children’s Home + Aid is committed to advancing reforms that will help Illinois build a quality mental health service system – including Medicaid rates that support a well-trained, sustainable workforce and a diverse provider base. We will also continue to advance a widespread understanding of the unique mental health needs of youth in foster care and the importance of using locations like schools as a place where youth and families can access services.

At the meeting last week, we discussed steps Illinois can explore now – like streamlining state agency regulations to eliminate duplication of work, or improving working relationships between providers and managed care companies. We are grateful to Representative Wallace and Senator Syverson for hearing our concerns and joining us in brainstorming these possible solutions. We look forward to working together to build a system of care that meets the needs of all Illinoisans.

[1] KIDS COUNT Data Center. ” Enrollment of children in medical assistance programs, 40 largest counties.” Retrieved from Annie E. Casey Foundation website.