Transforming Behavioral Health Services for Illinois Youth 

Chapin Hall team develops plan to ensure families get the help they need

Illinois families with children who need mental health services can feel like they are entering a vast forest, with no clear path to good outcomes. No matter how they enter–through their local school, a health care provider, or a State agency—the path is not well marked. Too often, they, and their children, get lost.  

In the Spring of 2022, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker launched the Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative to develop an intentional, coordinated strategy to ensure that families get the help they need. He named Dr. Dana Weiner, Chapin Hall Senior Policy Fellow, to lead the effort and develop a transformational blueprint for behavioral health services for Illinois youth.  

“Our system is difficult for families to navigate and does not provide families with consistent transparent solutions to the challenges they face,” said Weiner. “The uncertainty that results can threaten the healthy development of children, and the integrity and stability of families.” 

By December, the team will produce a Blueprint for Transformation that will include clear guidelines for implementation. For this project, Weiner leads a Chapin Hall team that includes Beth McDaniel, Kapria Lee, Kya Barounis, Brian Chor, Cody Oltmans, Sam Shapiro, Mike Stiehl, Kiljoong Kim, Richard Foltz, Bob Goerge, Colin Cepuran, Mary Sue Morsch, Shaun Lane, and Larry Small.

In Illinois in 2022, more than 100,000 children and youth with disabilities receive social work, psychological, or counseling services. Mental health problems among children and adolescents were already on the rise, and the pandemic increased this trend. In 2020, compared to 2019, the number of mental health related emergency department visits for 12-17 year-olds increased by 31 percent.  

The goals of the Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative are twofold. First, to ensure that young people with significant behavioral health needs receive the community and residential services they need to thrive. And second, to provide caregivers clarity about how to get help for their children. 

A better way: A re-designed behavioral health system will create clearly marked paths to services and illuminate the options available to families.  

Since last spring, Weiner has overseen the work of a team of leaders from six state agencies and engaged with nearly 400 stakeholders from 93 organizations to develop consensus around problems and solutions, surveying residential providers on staffing and capacity and analyzing data to understand the level and distribution of mental health service needs.  The team has developed interactive maps to help understand the gaps and analyzed policies related to monitoring, access, and coordination among state agencies.  Weiner facilitates collaboration among the child-serving agencies to expedite placements for the highest-need youth and developed an online portal to centralize intake and promote inter-agency collaboration.

“We can do better for our children and our families,” said Weiner. “We must do better.”  

The plan for transformation will create clearly marked paths to services and illuminate the options available to families.  Then, families will no longer feel they have to navigate a vast forest of services alone. No matter where families enter systems, the path to good outcomes will be clear.

“Our children are our greatest treasure and not one of them should fall through the cracks because of an antiquated system that is too small and too slow to fit the scope of their needs,” Gov. Pritzker said when this project was launched. The goal of the new plan is to establish systems and practices that ensure that no child, and no family, is lost.  

BHTI Update July 2022 BHTI Update August 2022 BHTI Update Sept-Oct 2022