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DSM USA Policy HQ - Children's Mental Health

Children's Mental Health

July 19, 2021


The DSM USA Policy HQ podcast is a monthly conversation between experts on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.  

In the 10th installment of the DSM USA Policy HQ podcast, Polk County Supervisor Robert Brownell and Liz Cox, CEO of Polk County Health Services discussed children’s mental health. This topic is an expansion on June’s discussion of statewide mental health efforts, following the Iowa Legislature’s passage of a new funding model for mental health. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) approximately 80,000 children and youth in Iowa have a serious emotional disturbance or mental illness that causes disability at school, home or in the community. Additionally, last year, 22% of Polk County Health Services’ mobile crisis calls were to support children. 

New Children’s Crisis Mental Health Services

Brownell and Cox discuss the new short-term children’s mental health crisis services that Polk County has developed for the surrounding area. This initiative is part of a larger statewide push for children’s mental health and to curb the need for hospitalization or institutionalization for children in Iowa beginning July 1. 

Polk County’s new initiative includes a more child-focused mobile crisis service, residential and community crisis stabilization efforts and a stronger look at intensive family care. Polk County has already begun to work with community partners, such as Broadlawns and Lutheran Services of Iowa (LSI) to ramp up these efforts.  

Resources for Inquiring Families

Cox says that it can be hard for families to know who to call in times of crisis. For many children, schools and counselors are the first place to spot mental health concerns. Polk County Health Services is currently working with the school districts and the Department of Education to provide their staffs with training needed to detect mental health concerns and making mental health assessments more accessible for students. 

When children are in the home; the nuances of the situation may vary. If the family member believes that a child in their care is in danger, they should call 911. Brownell says that Des Moines Dispatch has added a mental health therapist or social worker in the office to evaluate situations and suggest when police officers may be needed at a crisis scene.  

If their child is not in immediate danger, Cox suggests that parents drive their child to a care provider like a pediatrician or talk with a mental health professional. Clinics like UnityPoint Behavioral Health Urgent Care currently provide walk-in mental health services.  

Cox also says that families should utilize the Your Life Iowa hotline through 211. This statewide hotline connects individuals with a crisis mental health counselor. Those mental health professionals can provide assessments, answer questions and direct callers to the correct services.  

How Can Businesses Support Mental Health

Cox explained that there are many ways that employers can make mental health a priority in their company and educating employees. Human Resources (HR) representatives may be the first person that employees contact in a time of need, so it is important to train your HR team in mental health assessment in order to avoid losing key employees due to mental health concerns and burnout.  Polk County Health Services is also creating a task force for mental health and Cox asked CEOs to reach out to Polk County Health Services for more information.  

Other topics discussed included current work with the changing state funding model, current legislation and more. 

Find a list of Polk County Health Service’s children’s mental health resources here.  

Listen to the entire podcast above. 

The DSM USA Policy Headquarters podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector. Join us each month to hear from local Greater Des Moines (DSM) experts. To listen to more Partnership podcasts, click here


The DSM USA Policy HQ podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.