New committee aims to develop long-term strategies to ensure behavioral health care for Washington youths


Shane Ersland


A new committee created to develop long-term strategies to ensure access to behavioral health care for Washington families in the perinatal stage, children, and youths discussed some focus areas during its first meeting on Monday.


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The Prenatal to 25 Behavioral Health Strategic Plan Advisory Committee was formed during the 2022 legislative session with the passage of House Bill 1890. The Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group (CYBHWG) recommended the development of the committee to the legislature, directing it to develop a strategic plan to address behavioral health needs across the state. 

CYBHWG Co-Chair Rep. Lisa Callan (D-Issaquah) said the state’s behavioral health landscape has many gaping holes. 

“We know the capacity and our workforce shortages,” Callan said. “We have this wonderful opportunity and actual mandate and paramount duty for us to make sure that we take ourselves out of an impending crisis cycle on behavioral health for children, youth, and families. And drive to a visionary space where we can make sure that everyone has the care they need when and where they need it.”

The committee must submit a strategic plan to the governor and legislature by Nov. 1st, 2024. Maureen Sorensen, Senior Director of Foster Care Operations at Coordinated Care, said a primary goal should be to focus on the boarding of youths in hospitals. She said this is especially harmful for youths who have intellectual disabilities and co-occurring disorders. 

“When this is combined with the trauma of foster care, we have multiple youths that are boarding at our hospitals because we have no safe and appropriate place for them to be in Washington State,” Sorensen said. “Every day our youth are in these situations and this is causing them irreversible additional trauma. I’m hoping that some folks on here can come together around this issue and work together to support the youth who aren’t having access to services in those facilities, and also the youth who are boarding at our hospitals.”

Sorensen said many youths that are housed in foster care facilities don’t have access to healing-centered spaces. 

“They’re leaving facilities when they can, they have extremely high access to substances, and we are seeing an astronomical use of fentanyl with our foster youth,” Sorensen said. “The issue of having Narcan on them is something we’re working with those groups on.”

CYBHWG Co-Chair Dr. Keri Waterland, Director of the Washington State Health Care Authority’s Division of Behavioral Health & Recovery, said Kauffman & Associates will serve as the committee’s consultant.

“In the next few months, we will be formalizing what this looks like through charter work and other things, and engaging with Kauffman & Associates on our meeting cadence,” Waterland said. “We also are going to be looking at what that looks like statewide, taking into account rural, urban, and frontier areas, and making sure all those voices are incorporated in the work we do. There are going to be gaps that this landscape analysis brings up so we can decide how we’re going to address those.”

Sharon Shadwell, a mental health counselor who provides services in the Puget Sound area, noted the importance of considering the health of those who are not yet born.

“I want to express my deep appreciation for the recognition of how essential it is to think about behavioral health beginning before a child is even born,” Shadwell said. “Our mental health and well-being truly develops in the context of our most important relationships, and that happens from the beginning of our lives and throughout our lives.”

The committee’s next meeting will be on Oct. 13th at 1:30 pm.

“The idea behind [HB] 1890 was not only to take care of today’s needs and issues but making sure we knew where we were going to go tomorrow and what the long-term plans were for the state,” Callan said. “For the next year, [we’ll] do community outreach and do deep listening within communities to help inform [us]. We will also be working on trying to quantify and qualify the landscape [and] what [services] currently exist across the full continuum of care services in Washington State already. Where are the deserts, and for what service and for whom? That will evolve into where we define the true gaps and how we take care of those gaps.”