By Dr. Terry Brooks
Did you hear the revolution? It happened on the morning of November 19th before the Kentucky General Assembly’s School Safety Working Group, a blue-ribbon collection of leaders being artfully chaired by Senator Max Wise and Representative Bam Carney.
Cabinet for Health and Family Services Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam quietly announced the Administration’s commitment to amending the state Medicaid plan to allow schools to tap into a federal funding stream to expand school-based health services for the upcoming 2019-20 school year and beyond. No big deal.
A Big Deal
Except it means that one of the most crucial cornerstones to ensure school safety – students’ access to needed behavioral health services – is affordable and achievable. What all agreed was vital to increasing student safety and addressing student’s behavioral health needs – and yet all agreed was beyond the fiscal reach of schools – suddenly can become a reality for Kentucky students in only a matter of months.
That significant win for kids – and for those who love and serve them in schools across Kentucky – went virtually un-noted beyond the animated discussion in that Frankfort meeting room. And I understand why. It carried no raw rhetoric. It lacks political drama. It was solution-focused and not conflict-generating.
And yet, it is a reminder that there are, in fact, a myriad of ways in which common ground can be found for kids when it comes to health. In an arena that seemingly is always scarred by toxicity, health leaders and kid advocates need to focus on those kinds of common ground solutions.
If the linkage of behavioral health services offers one of those promising common ground solutions, another potential major win for kids is in the arena of tobacco-free policy. Now, I realize that tobacco-free policy is not the usual place to begin to talk about common ground. But, in this case, it is.
We at Kentucky Youth Advocates believe that tobacco-free school campuses can and should be a statewide reality before the final gavel falls in the 2019 General Assembly. And we also believe that the General Assembly can and should begin to immediately tackle the boom in e-cigarette usage among Kentucky kids. Unless we as a Commonwealth treat e-cigs as the health threat it is – both in terms of now and in the future – Kentucky will still be the cancer capital of the nation in 20 years. We invite you to learn more in the “Ending the Surge of E-Cigarettes So Kentucky Teens Can Grow Into Healthier Adults” infographic on our web site.
And the list can go on. After all, the readers of this publication – more than most – realize that health impacts every aspect of child well-being. When you consider, even for a moment, the wide spectrum of opportunities, we have a professional and ethical obligation to make things happen. We can apply common gumption to achieve common good for kids around these issues:
- Strengthening the review process and therapeutic services to ensure psychotropic medications are appropriately prescribed to children in foster care for behavioral health issues, especially among the youngest Kentuckians.
- Imaginative ways to continue the positive momentum around health coverage for children as coverage for many parents will shift with the implementation of 1115 Medicaid Waiver requirements in Spring of 2019.
- Ensuring a therapeutic response to children who have experienced trauma, like abuse or neglect, and curbing the abuse to prison pipeline – an issue highlighted in the 2018 KIDS COUNT County Data Book.
- The linkage of physical activity to student learning.
- Health-related supports for young people transitioning out of foster care.
- The impact of nutritional and food supply disparities.
I am not naïve. I realize that any number of issues related to health policy raise serious, legitimate and sincere disagreement. And we should and must find civil and constructive ways to address those arenas.
Yet, we have so many opportunities to seize ideas that bring people together and deliver for kids when it comes to health. Let’s robustly debate what needs to be debated. But, let’s also roll up our shirtsleeves and tackle the opportunities that can make an immediate and positive impact on the health and lives of Kentucky’s children.
-Dr. Terry Brooks is the executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.