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State creates 'Roadmap' for kids' mental health services

People who have had trouble getting mental health services in the Interior, especially for kids, are invited to a Listening Session tonight with experts putting together a new statewide behavioral health roadmap. Register here:

People commenting this evening will have a chance to share their experiences in accessing behavioral health for youth here and offer recommendations to make that access easier. Information gathered during this session will help inform the statewide behavioral health roadmap.(

This is a new approach. The steering committee for a statewide behavioral health roadmap for youth just had its first meeting in June. The group is meeting today (Wednesday) and tomorrow in Fairbanks to focus on barriers in Interior Alaska.

 “We're doing five community listening sessions around the state. Fairbanks is the first one, and it's kind of kicking off the process, and then we'll have four additional ones across the state.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink says the goal is to improve mental health care for Alaska youth. She says the committee will be listening with open minds.

“There may be successes that we can take from the Interior that we can share with other communities. There may be gaps and limitations in being able to provide care. We're open to hearing both solutions, uh, as well as obstacles that may exist.”

The steering committee will meet several times this summer and fall and produce a report in December.

Pulling agencies and resources together to improve mental health for youth is not new, but this roadmap was triggered by an investigation from the US Department of Justice that showed Alaska kids with behavioral health problems are institutionalized at high rates and for long periods because the State does not ensure that community-based services are available and accessible.

Zink says the state wants to do better.

According to an April report from the Alaska’s Department of Health, the total number of kids placed in out-of-state psychiatric residential treatment facilities is less than 100, compared to about 3,000 receiving behavioral health care in state so far in 2023. Data show about 6,511 kids received community behavioral health treatment in state each year.)

 ”And actually Fairbanks led its own Interior Working Group on youth mental health previously. And so this is a chance to build on some of the work that's previously happened in Fairbanks, but try to provide an opportunity for new providers, different providers to hear what's been going on. We want to get to solutions as quickly as possible, but we also don't want to limit who can share. That's why we really are opening up this community listening session in the evening.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.