Legislative Reports & Updates, Reports & Updates from Gail

Mooney Legislative Report – January, Part 2

Mooney Legislative Report • January, Part 2

Word soup:  Trauma, mental health, behavioral health, substance abuse disorder, prevention, early intervention, school-to-prison pipeline, de-stigmatize, complex issues, continuum, availability, accessibility.  Just a few of the descriptors frequently used in the discussion of Behavioral Health related to adolescents.

January may have been some of the most intense Human Services Committee work yet, as we focused almost exclusively on the behavioral health challenges of our North Dakota youth.  Over a two-day period we heard testimony from the state departments, schools, advocacy groups, and parents.  

Lisa Bjergaard, Director of the Dept. of Corrections Juvenile Services Division provided information on dramatic trends within the juvenile system.  Data has been tracked since 2010 when they first began to see a significant shift away from delinquent behaviors to those with serious mental health and complex trauma needs.  Based on this data, the Juvenile Corrections Profile was first created in 2011, and currently reflects that:

89% have mental health issues

74% have issues with substance abuse

71% deal with family instability

66% experience academic problems

99% engage in risky criminal behaviors

91% have issues with cognitive reasoning

80% lack adequate social skills

Current focus is on juvenile justice reform of policies and strategies that keep at-risk youth connected to their homes, schools, and communities through a developmental approach that includes accountability without criminalization (with use of corrective actions); alternatives to the juvenile justice system; confinement only for cases of public safety; sensitivity to diversified treatment; and family engagement.  Truly – a “village” approach to behavioral changes – with the goal of keeping our kids out of the justice system as they grow in to adulthood.

Additional testimony came from advocacy groups and parents, which spoke of the need for a statewide system of care with the emphasis on community-based services from childhood to adulthood.

Data was presented that indicates as many as 16,852 North Dakota children live with a serious emotional disorder, but only about a third of these children (an estimated 5,600) actually receive the mental health services they need.  Barriers to services are as varied and complex as Medicaid rules and reimbursements – and as simple as access.  In a primarily rural state, availability and access is a problem.  As the private sector ramps up their efforts through innovations like tele-health, they need state initiatives to help bridge gaps and barriers.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and several schools provided extensive testimony on efforts to work with issues of behavioral health within the school systems of North Dakota.  

SB 2048, passed in 2015, requires school districts to provide eight hours of mental health training once every two years to all elementary, middle and high school teachers and administrators.  Schools have flexibility to implement the training in a way that best meets their needs, but some burden is expected as districts struggle to meet the new standards with existing resources.  The ultimate goal is to strengthen existing mental health systems within the school systems.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler provided insights of the effects of a student’s ability to learn while dealing with crisis or behavioral health issues.  Science has shown that when a person experiences stress or trauma, there is s chemical change that occurs within the brain. Depending on the severity of the incident, it can take from 12 to 48 hours after a trauma for the brain to return to a normal learning state.  Prolonged exposure to trauma can dramatically reduce the student’s ability to learn.   

Supporting testimony by Bismarck area administrators reinforced this basic learning edict with relation to behavioral issues, underscoring the need for innovative school and community supports to help students succeed.

Word soup reduced to a condensed stew…  The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of innovative initiatives taking place across the state.  The bad news is that we have a long way to go.  But, we have great people dedicated to moving solid initiatives forward, and with time and great partnered efforts, I’m optimistic we can make great strides.

To read the full January testimony, go to http://www.legis.nd.gov/events/2016/01/05/human-services-committee.  The minutes will have digital copies of all testimonies given – and is quite illuminating.

Till next time!

Gail Mooney

District 20 Representative





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