Governor creates VIP panel to review policy on children’s mental health

Gov. Nathan Deal announced Wednesday the creation of a commission charged with providing recommendations to improve state mental health services for children.

The panel is composed of government leaders, children’s advocates and health care experts. (Members are listed below.)  It is tasked with submitting a report to Deal on Sept. 1 on potential improvements to Medicaid services, and on ways to increase access to care for uninsured kids.


“This commission is modeled after several successful interagency collaborations, including the First Lady’s Children’s Cabinet, the Child Welfare Reform Council and the Criminal Justice Reform Council,” Deal said in a statement. “In fact, the Child Welfare Reform Council’s advocacy on the importance of early examination and treatment resulted in changes to mental health coverage for Medicaid and PeachCare members. This year, my budget included an additional $2.5 million to provide mental health services to the full population of children from birth to age 5.”

The new commission, he said, “is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to better care for Georgians, particularly our most vulnerable.”

“Its members will work to help ensure our youngest patients receive the treatment necessary to help them grow up as healthy and productive members of society,’’ Deal said. “I look forward to reviewing their feedback and taking the next steps in reforming mental health services for Georgia’s children.”

Mental health services for children have lagged in Georgia for years, consumer advocates have said.

The landmark 2010 settlement agreement between Georgia and federal officials over improving the care of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities has won praise from consumer advocacy groups, both here and nationally. But the pact with the U.S. Justice Department had one major gap: It didn’t address children’s services.

Georgia children with mental illness often are stuck in government and education systems that are not coordinated and don’t meet the young patients’ needs, advocacy groups say.

The commission members include:

** Co-Chairwoman Katie Childers, the governor’s deputy chief of staff of policy

** Co-Chairwoman Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

** Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Community Health


** Bobby Cagle, director of the Department of Family and Child Services

** Teresa MacCartney, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, and the state’s chief financial officer

** Stephanie Blank, founding chairwoman of Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students

** Erica Fener Sitkoff, Policy and Outreach director, Voices for Georgia’s Children

** Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Sue Smith, CEO of the Georgia Parent Support Network, an advocacy group, commended Deal on launching the commission Wednesday.

Smith called it “a much needed step to bring together a group of very knowledgeable people to examine children’s mental health services and provide recommendations to ensure that the needs of Georgia’s children are met.”