For too long the debate over the care of children and young adults in Connecticut with behavioral health needs, developmental disabilities or those in the juvenile justice system has been centered on the wrong issue. Important time, money, and other resources have been spent debating the future of specific programs, rather than focusing on how best to provide care and treatment that will meet individual needs.

Specifically, the first and last question in such a dialogue should always be which treatment option is in the best interest of the child or young adult whose quality of life we are trying to improve.

As Connecticut policy makers decide how the care of children and young adults in the child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice systems will be delivered, the goal should be a universal system that recognizes the unique needs of each individual. As a state, we need to avoid the tendency to favor one form of treatment over another based solely on perceived trends. The true challenges facing children and families with special needs are complicated and require an array of service options. There is need within the care spectrum for almost every service being offered, both by state government and by private sector treatment providers.

The recent state review of mental health services available to children and young adults in Connecticut points to a number of areas where a concentrated effort would yield positive results. These areas of concern are also relevant for at-risk children, adolescents in the juvenile justice system and those with developmental disabilities. They include greater emphasis on prevention and screening, consistency of care, and unfettered access to services regardless of geographical location within the state. Care and treatment plans also need to be family centered.

In the upcoming legislative session, the Children’s League of Connecticut believes action on several major issues would have significant long term benefits:

  • Insure that family engagement is an integral component of care.
  • Insure that youth access the level and type of care and that best meets their needs.
  • Insure that the service system is broad and diverse enough to meet the increasingly complex and varied needs of Connecticut’s youth and families.

Connecticut has a long and distinguished history of being progressive and is viewed as a national leader in its care and treatment of children and families. It is critical that policies currently being developed embody this tradition by focusing on meeting individual needs of the children being served.

This goal may be achieved by utilizing the unique array of resources available through public-private partnerships and will result in better outcomes for all our children. To truly meet individual needs, services for children and families must offer the full continuum of care, including community-based prevention, education, and early intervention services to more intensive home-based therapy and residential programs for children whose needs cannot be safely met in the community.

Every case is unique, and while it may seem cost efficient to develop a highly circumscribed set of programs that serve as many children and young adults as possible, years of experience show us that in the long run, only a system of care that is flexible and offers an array of customized services will work in the best interest of the individuals served, their families, and ultimately the state as a whole.

Dan Rezende is the President of the The Children’s League of Connecticut.

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