Chapin Hall and Gov. Pritzker Launch Blueprint for Transformation of Mental Health Services for Illinois Youth

Chapin Hall's Dr. Dana Weiner stands with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. Image credit: Office of JB Pritzker

On Feb. 24, Chapin Hall’s Dr. Dana Weiner, alongside Governor JB Pritzker, announced the Blueprint for Transformation, the next step in the Illinois Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative. The Blueprint is a roadmap to rebuild the way the state delivers behavioral and mental health services to youth. The report has been a year in the making, with Weiner directing a team of experts from Chapin Hall and state agency leaders to analyze data and policies, to survey residential providers on staffing and capacity, and to test an approach to creating a responsive, practical system that works for Illinois families. Explore the project page to learn about the initiative’s beginnings.

“Over the last 11 months, we have challenged the status quo and tested new ideas for coordinating across state agencies to expedite care for young people in need,” said Weiner. “In the process, we’ve learned a lot about the barriers we’ll need to overcome to improve our system, and the many programs, communities, providers, and people we can rely on for a foundation as we seek to innovate and improve service delivery to families.”

The Blueprint presents 12 recommendations—including creating a centralized resource for families seeking services for children; improving coordination of service delivery and increasing capacity to serve more children and families; implementing resource referral technology to enable families to more easily link to services in their communities; and offering universal screening in education and pediatrics to ensure that mental and behavioral health problems are detected and addressed early.

“This work represents the insights and perspectives of over 700 stakeholders, who were generous with their time and expertise to make sure that we had a clear and accurate picture of how our system has been functioning, where it works, and where it falls short,” Weiner said. “These conversations helped to generate the ideas in the Blueprint, including the availability of in-home supports for parents who need help to take care of children who are struggling, and a centralized single place to access guidance and referrals for services.”

The Initiative was created in response to a national youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. At a 2022 Senate hearing, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy testified that on average it takes 11 years from the onset of symptoms of mental health distress before a child begins receiving treatment. Specifically in Illinois, statistics for 2020 show the number of mental health-related emergency department visits for 12- to 17-year-olds increased by 31% compared to 2019. According to Mental Health America’s 2023 report, Illinois ranks 13th in the nation in terms of access to mental health care for youth, so there is still room for improvement.

“As a governor and a father, I refuse to let our youth fall through the cracks,” Pritzker said. “We need to make it easier for young people and their families to navigate and often serpentine and complex system.”

The Blueprint strategies are meant to untangle this complicated system by “increasing capacity thoughtfully, streamlining processes responsively, intervening earlier to prevent more severe problems, promoting accountability and rebuilding trust with provider partners, and creating the technological infrastructure and coordination that will allow us to be agile in recognizing and responding to challenges,” Weiner said.



Pritzker cautioned that the transformation will be difficult and time-consuming, but also underscored how proud he is of this “unprecedented inter-agency effort.” In addition to commenting on the Initiative, he named Weiner Chief Officer for Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation through an executive order.

“With a child welfare expert like Dana Weiner at the helm, we have already hit the ground running and hit the ball out of the park with this leadership and the progress that she’s already made with the folks that she’s gathered together,” Pritzker said. “As of January 30th of this year, 41% of the cases that came through that front door that we created in the pilot were already fully resolved, connecting children with the appropriate interventions, placements and services.”

Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Chris Welch also attended and addressed the crowd as well as Majority Leader of the Illinois Senate Kimberly Lightford, Illinois State Senators Karina Villa and Sara Feigenholtz, and State Representative Lindsey LaPointe.

In the next phase of work, the team will continue to build on their progress while developing a detailed implementation plan that incorporates lessons learned in hundreds of implementations of systemic change in Illinois and across the country. There is a total of $22.8 million in Pritzker’s proposed 2024 state budget dedicated to jumpstart the recommendations in the Blueprint.

“Now that we have data-driven guidance and tested strategies, we can embark on transformation with a road map to guide our work,” Weiner said.

View the blueprint