- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut’s system for treating children and young adults with psychiatric issues is inadequate for addressing what has become “a substantial public mental health burden in the state,” according to a task force that released wide-ranging recommendations Tuesday on how the state can improve services.

The 20-member task force, created last year after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, released 47 proposals for the General Assembly to consider when it reconvenes in January. Among its recommendations, the group called for primary care providers to screen children and young adults up to 25 for behavioral health problems.

“There exists a substantial public mental health burden in Connecticut for children, adolescents, young adults and their families with early onset psychiatric and mental health disorders,” said Dr. Daniel F. Conner, co-chairman of the task force, adding how, “overall, the current pediatric and young adult mental health system does not adequately meet the extent and current need.”

The group was charged with examining mental health services for people ages 16 to 25. While the gunman in the Newtown killings was 20, there have also been other examples in Connecticut of violent acts committed by troubled young adults.

The panel examined issues such as gaps in insurance coverage for mental health care, the lack of mental health workers and available services, and the need for more professional training and early interventions.

The group also called for developing and funding seven centers to provide specialized training for professionals providing outpatient treatment to children and young adults, and expanding state funding for an initiative that makes psychiatrists available to consult with primary care providers and pediatricians.

Other task force recommendations include:

- Increase the number of school psychologists and the pool of in-school social workers.

- Expand the presence of school nurses in elementary, middle and high schools and include mental health services in school-based health centers.

- Improve reimbursement rates to encourage more clinicians to accept Medicaid patients.

- Create incentives to encourage partnerships between public and commercial insurers to pay for child and young adult mental health care.

- Require coursework on mental health, early identification and classroom safety to be part of teacher preparation.

While many of the proposals will require additional state spending, the task force did not provide a price tag for lawmakers to consider.

The group also did not give recommendations regarding some of the more complicated issues, such as possible changes to the state’s civil commitment laws and how to better serve to young adults who transition out of the Department of Children and Families and into programs provided by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The group said those issues need to be further studied.