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YES CEO David W. Downing Responds to How Are Kids Doing?

Lidia Harding
Agency news Giving
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How are kids doing?

In my 30-plus years of working in the child and youth mental health and substance use disorder treatment sector or behavioral health field as it is now called, I’ve been asked this question often. However, NEVER have I been asked this question with the frequency and intensity of concern that I have since the beginning of the pandemic. These past two years have led us as a society to become more divided and isolated and this has significantly impacted our youth.

The sheer increase in the number of children and youth seeking behavioral health treatment at Youth Eastside Services (YES) for anxiety and depression is a real concern. What is particularly worrisome is that the symptoms they exhibit are more acute than before the pandemic, and require intensive services for a more lengthy duration. This leads to a higher financial cost for providers like us, and for the families needing our help.

A national emergency declaration

This child and youth mental health crisis was confirmed in October 2021 with an official joint declaration of national emergency in children’s mental health by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) who stated:

As health professionals dedicated to the care of children and adolescents, we have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic. Children and families across our country have experienced enormous adversity and disruption.

– AAP, AACAP, CHA Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Specifically in Washington, the October 2020 Department of Health report on the “Impact of COVID-19 on Behavioral Health” showed that youth ages 11-17 were more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

A reduction in Medicaid funding

Given this escalating crisis, a logical assumption might be that funding would increase to support the needs of our young people. Unfortunately, that would be wrong. Specifically, the reimbursement methods used in our King County region, have actually reduced Medicaid payments to local nonprofit organizations serving the mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs of children and youth, as relayed to me by peer CEOs and Directors, by approximately 20-36% in the past 12 months. Sadly, there seems little movement to correct this.

Am I worried? Yes, absolutely. Do I feel hopeless? No, never. In the face of adversity, I feel and see resilience in our young people, their families, and those of us taking action. However, while we are scrappy, we are not miracle workers. Only with the right funding and resources will we be able to meet the demands of this crisis.

What you can do to help?

First, it is imperative that as a community we are educated and informed about the crisis around youth mental health. Second, take time to learn the skills needed and gather the courage to ask young people how they are doing. Not only as parents and family members, but also as teachers, coaches, and neighbors. Third, please continue your generous financial support to help cover the shortfall of Medicaid reimbursements. Fourth, advocate for increased funding for child and youth behavioral health at all levels of government (federal, state, county, and city).

You are the inspiration we need

If there is one gift I take from the difficult experience of the pandemic, it is the increased awareness of child and youth behavioral health by YOU, our community, and your desire to be part of the solution to this crisis. It is genuinely inspiring and heartening to have you all stand firm and take action together to fight for systemic change and to adequately fund and strengthen the great work of YES. Together we can literally save the lives of young people, and help them build lives worth living.

Continue being the inspiration children, youth and families need, during this difficult time. Make a gift today to provide youth with hope for a brighter tomorrow! Whether you donate $5 or $500, every gift will make a difference in the life of a child or youth seeking hope and recovery.

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