Colorado agency releases plan to improve child behavioral health access

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For years, Colorado has fallen behind when it comes to providing mental health care for its residents.

After hearing public testimony from hundreds of people across the state about the number of barriers to accessing care, the state formed the Behavioral Health Administration.

It was tasked with improving the system as a whole but identified an urgent need to improve access for children and has been working on a child behavioral health implementation plan for years.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy to navigate at all,” said Blair Skinner, clinical director of the Early Childhood Wellness Place in Broomfield.

RELATED: New Behavioral Health Administration aims to make care accessible, affordable

Skinner is one of several providers who alerted CBS News Colorado to an array of issues, largely with insurance, that left hundreds of kids waiting for care.

“We work with Medicaid, we work also with private pay,” she said. “It’s just getting the insurance companies to cover the services we provide in a timely manner so we can afford to keep our doors open.”

That’s among the issues the Behavioral Health Administration wants to address to improve access for families.

Kelly Causey is the deputy commissioner of the BHA.

“We can’t just assume that they are mini-adults, and they experience our systems in that same way,” Causey said.

Working with several other state agencies, she says they’ve identified more than 100 action items to make immediate improvements.

They include things like developing an early childhood mental health consultation program, enhancing school-based mental healthcare and a renewed focus on building a workforce.

“We are partnering with community colleges and others to be able to build that pipeline, have the certifications, the scaffolding we need for that to be able to build that for the long run,” she added.

Also, on that list of tasks to accomplish, examining reimbursement rates for standardized assessment and enforcing those with insurance companies.

Causey says they plan to work with those companies on improvements.

“They are important partners in the work we are doing to make sure there’s coverage for children when they need it,” Cause said.

Skinner says she is glad to see the state recognizing the importance of early childhood intervention.

“Their basic personality is fairly well established by 1st or 2nd grade so if we’ve got kids that are feeling anxious or worried or really struggling with relationships or not knowing how to make friends, if we can intervene, then what kind of a difference can we make,” she said.

Skinner and other providers that CBS News Colorado spoke with say while they are excited to see the plan now that it’s out, they don’t feel they had the opportunity to weigh in and question how much input was taken from private providers.

The BHA says they held several stakeholder meetings, and that they know they likely didn’t reach every provider they were relying on different associations to help communicate the request for feedback.

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