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By Dan Heyman
RICHMOND, Va. – With reforms underway in Virginia for children’s mental health services, lawmakers and advocates want to hear from people dealing with the issues every day. Voices For Virginia’s Children is hosting a community conversation Thursday in Charlottesville.
Executive director Margaret Nimmo Crowe says there will be a brief panel discussion that will include lawmakers looking to rewrite state policy. But she says most of the time will be for frank and open talk, including folks who know about the issue first-hand.
“Providers of mental health services, families who have children who experience mental health disorders tell us what is working and what is not working,” says Nimmo Crowe. “What services are you able to get easily and what types of treatment are still needed?”
Nimmo Crowe says for the last five years they’ve been working on a long-term effort to improve access and funding for crisis services. She says lawmakers could make major changes to the system over the next few legislative sessions.
“We want to make sure those changes are informed,” she says. “That policy makers are really hearing from the people on the ground, who either need the services or are trying to provide them.”
She says much of the focus has been on adult mental health but it’s important not to ignore children’s needs, even if the issue is hard to talk about.
“We know that half of all mental illness begins before the age of 14, so if we’re leaving the children’s system out of the solution, we’re really missing a big part of it,” Nimmo Crowe says.
State Sen. Creigh Deeds will be on the panel. A year ago Deeds was violently attacked by his son, who was suffering from a mental illness. Since then Deeds has led much of the effort to reform Virginia’s mental health services for children. Nimmo Crowe says it was crucial he be there.
“For us it was very critical to have him be part of this, not only to share, but also to hear what people are saying, because he is heading up the four-year legislative study commission.”
Thursday’s event is free and open to the public. It’ll be held at the Jefferson School City Center in Charlottesville. Some snacks will be served, starting at 6 p.m.