The Struggle for Children’s Mental Health Justice in Iowa

(updated Tuesday, March 5, 2019)

This part of my website is meant to help inform the public, elected officials, and candidates of all political persuasions about the status and history 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 five 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 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. Memory and transparency are important in such efforts.

There have been ongoing and consistent efforts to build a children’s mental health system in Iowa. The following documents show efforts since 2011 as well as other related initiatives related to children’s mental health. Efforts began much earlier than this. If you have official documents, reports, or other items you believe would be useful in this effort, please send them to

Documenting the Struggle:


The Iowa Department of Education is considering rule changes regarding the use of Corporal Punish, Seclusion and Restraint in public schools. Click here for the proposal and my comments.


In 2018 there was progress for adult mental health in Iowa. The Complex Needs bill passed both chambers unanimously and Governor Reynolds signed it into law on March 29, 2018. This legislation will create 6 Access Centers across the state and provide Assertive Community Treatment in each Mental Health Region. While this is a victory for adult mental health in Iowa, once again, children were left behind. This bill will not affect Iowan’s under 18 because the current mental health system (the Mental Health Regions and the Tax Levy that fund it) are only charged with serving adults.

However, children did have two victories in 2018:

1.  Senate File 2113, which was amended in the House, unanimously passed  both chambers and was also signed by Governor Reynolds on March 29, 2018. This bill requires school teachers to take 1 hour of training per year on suicide awareness, prevention, and trauma-informed care. Given that we were one of the only states in the country without such mandatory training, this is certainly movement in the right direction. A thank you to all of our legislators that passed this bill unanimously in both chambers and to Governor Reynolds for signing it.

2.  Governor Reynolds signed an Executive Order establishing a platform to build a children’s mental health system based on the Children’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Advisory Committee’s recommendation.

Click here to see the information that was posted on this website during the 2018 Iowa legislative session.


2016 Children’s Mental Health and Well Being Final Report


August 2015: A Statewide Call for Action: A Strategic Plan for a Children’s Mental

Health Redesign in Iowa

December 2015 Children’s Mental Health and Well Being Final Report


2013 Children’s Disability Services Workgroup Report 

The 2011-2013 Workgroups were part of the State’s Mental Health Redesign and recommended that the state build a Children’s Cabinet and charge it to build a system. It did not happen and the issue was dropped in 2014, after the redesign failed to include children in any meaningful way. (The only thing it contributed to children were the Pediatric Integrated Health Homes. They certainly were an improvement from nothing, but again, nothing close to resembling a system.) Many of us parents were heartbroken that kids were left behind again and we formed a Coalition of over 50 organizations and 100 individuals. This effort was co-chaired by myself (Tammy Nyden) and fellow parent Rene Speh. We wrote the Statewide Call for Action for a Children’s Mental Health Redesign, and this document helped move the state to form the Children’s Mental Health and Well-being work group in 2015 to return to the issue. Rene and I served on the 2015 and 2016 Workgroups and continue to serve on the current ongoing Children’s Mental Health and Advisory Committee.

SF505-SectionXXII – Legislative Action to Start Children’s Mental &Wellbeing Workgroup


2012 Children’s Disability Services Workgroup Report


2011 Children’s Disability Services Workgroup Report