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Investing In The Future: New Laws That Help Our Kids
Updated June 26, 2017 6:17 AM
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tami silverman.jpg
Tami Silverman president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute

(UNDATED) - While this summer's road construction is a visual reminder that Indiana adopted a landmark road funding bill in the recent legislative session, it's also worth noting that state lawmakers passed a host of new bills that pave the way for stronger and safer Hoosier kids, says Tami Silverman the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.

Several of this year's most promising new laws address the safety and well-being of our children by working with youth-serving individuals and organizations, the very network the Indiana Youth Institute exists to serve.

There are clear links between a child's mental health and school readiness, academic performance, and long-term health and success. Many areas of Indiana simply don't have enough service providers in their communities to meet the demand for assistance.

In Lawrence County, there are 23 licensed mental health care providers, one for every 1,978 residents. House Enrolled Act 1391 and Senate Enrolled Act 59 are designed to make it simpler for people with out-of- state professional behavioral health licenses to become licensed in Indiana. They also make available a new bachelor's level licensure standard in some behavioral health sectors.

Matt Brooks with the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers says, "The real goal is to expand the opportunity to provide a stronger (mental health) workforce."

While school employees unquestionably play a leading role in our children's lives, we cannot ignore the infrequent but distressing cases of teacher misconduct. Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction, says creating environments where "children are protected and feel secure is a key element in students achieving success." HEA 1079 aims to increase safety by requiring expanded criminal background checks for school employees. Schools must conduct thorough checks on new employees and updated checks on all staff every five years.

The bill was widely supported, but experts caution expanded background checks are not a cure- all. Teresa Meredith with the Indiana State Teachers Association reminds us that "all of us - every person in society, every community person - has a responsibility to do everything they possibly can, to protect the children in our society."

One of our greatest child safety concerns is how many Hoosier teens consider or attempt suicide.

Indiana ranks third nationally for the number of high schoolers who have considered suicide within the past year. The Marion County Commission on Youth worked closely with legislators to pass HEA 1430, which requires schools train teachers on suicide awareness and prevention, and designates the Division of Mental Health and Addiction as the statewide coordinator for suicide prevention programs.

DMHA's Director, Kevin Moore, sees this as an opportunity to unite many agencies working to prevent youth suicide, saying "this bill sends a very clear message that this (suicide prevention) is important, not just to legislators, but this is important to the citizens of Indiana." DMHA plans to hire a statewide suicide prevention coordinator by mid-summer and submit a report to the legislature by the end of the year.

Dr. McCormick applauded both HEAs 1430 and 1079 as "pivotal to accomplishing our goals, ensuring our educators are equipped with the best training possible and addressing the needs of the whole student."

Many experts agree that each of these laws represent a step in the right direction, and most are encouraged that our state legislature recognized the importance of taking new steps to address well-documented social and emotional needs of our children. But we should not get too comfortable - the proposed federal budget includes severe cuts to many of the programs that greatly benefit our kids. As always, more work remains to ensure that each Indiana child has a clear, smooth road to a safe, healthy and successful future..

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