Children’s Mental Health in Iowa

(updated March 25, 2018)

The top concern among Iowa voters in 2018 is the current mental health crisis.  Finally there is public understanding of the importance of mental health to the well-being of our state and  an awareness of Iowa’s need to improve mental health services. This is becoming a key election issue for midterm elections. However, most public discussions are still neglecting children‘s mental health.  Further, Iowa has a long history of systematically neglecting children in its mental health policies and funding.

This part of my website is meant to help inform the public, elected officials, and candidates of all political persuasions about the status of children’s mental health in Iowa and opportunities for improvement. First and foremost, I speak as a proud parent of an amazing kid with neurological differences, who unfortunately suffers from disabling mental health conditions.  However, this website also reflects insights gained from over four years of experience as a children’s mental advocate in Iowa, including service on state-level advisory councils and work groups. My  motivation for this site is that there is currently no advocacy organization in Iowa that focuses on children’s mental health, nor are there state, regional, or local points of accountability for children’s mental health in Iowa. My hope is that this site will serve as a helpful resource so that we can all better work together to help Iowa kids.

The General Picture

Iowa does not have a children’s mental health system.

  • There is no dedicated funding for a children’s mental health system.
    • Iowa’s existing Mental Health System (The MHDS Regions and the Property Tax Levy that funds them) are not charged to serve Iowan’s under the age of 18.
  • There is no point of accountability, planning, or coordination at the state, regional, or local level for children’s mental health.
  • There is no state code ensuring core services for children throughout the state. (There is for adults.)

This is not only age discrimination, it is foolish policy because as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) points out:

  • Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin before the age of 14 (75% by age 24). and early treatment substantially reduces lifelong disability and the high costs associated with it.
  • The average age of delay between onset and diagnosis is 8-10 years.
  • Treatment reduces disability and increases resilience, but it is most effective during the brain’s development from birth to age 26.

Make no mistake about it  – Iowa is already paying for its neglect of children’s mental health. Our lack of prevention and early intervention results in a much more expensive adult system, higher rates of incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, severity of disability, etc. Further, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Half of students over age 14 with a mental health disorder drop out of school.
  • 70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness.

Not to mention Iowa’s youth suicide rate is higher than the national average and the second leading killer of our state’s adolescents and young adults.


Recent efforts to improve Iowa’s mental health system do not affect children because the current system does not serve children. This includes this year’s Complex Needs bill, which has received so much attention in the news. Make no mistake about it, in Iowa when it comes to mental health:

If children are not written in, they are written off!

So let’s fix this together!
This is an open invitation to all Iowa legislators, Governor Reynolds, State Agency Leadership, and Advocates to work together to help Iowa kids!



Click here to see what a full array of services and community supports would include in a robust Children’s Mental Health System.

Click here for recommended next steps to form that system.

Click here for the most current Call for Action – what advocates can do right now!

Click here for the history of the struggle to get Children’s Mental Health System in Iowa.

Click here to hear first-hand stories of parents raising children with mental illness.