(October 2019-June 2021)
Improving children’s mental health in Iowa through a coordinated, collaborative effort to create a children’s mental health system and addressing the social determinants of health that lead to disruptions in children’s social-emotional development
Since joining the fellowship in 2017, Chaney Yeast has remained committed to creating a children’s mental health system that is adequately and sustainably funded and includes prevention and early intervention services. Yeast supported the CAMHI4Kids Coalition of more than 80 organizations advocating for a children’s mental health system by crafting messages to gain bipartisan support, identifying advocacy priorities, and building relationships with the Governor’s office and state leaders. Her efforts encouraged the state to establish the structure for a children’s mental health system in 2019, but the system has remained underfunded while the pandemic increased the need for mental health services.
The Governor’s office championed funding for mental health and several state leaders identified mental health as a concern, but efforts to fund the system stalled in the 2021 legislative session. Due to health and safety concerns, Yeast was one of the few children’s health advocates present at the Capitol during the session, which meant a loss of important, visibly identifiable collaboration and support from families and other advocates. She mobilized advocates to hold virtual education events and smaller, in-person meetings and put fellowship resources toward digital ads, opinion pieces, and direct mailers in regions that reached specific state leaders. While state leaders changed the funding structure to be state-run rather than regional during the 2021 session, they have yet to commit adequate and sustainable funding to create a true mental health system in Iowa, which guarantees the unique developmental needs of children are met.
Yeast’s advocacy work over several years has elevated the importance of creating a children’s mental health system among state leaders. Many leaders and advocates use her language about addressing the “patchwork of services” to support the creation of a comprehensive system. In this phase of the fellowship, Yeast supported CAMHI4Kids in prioritizing tangible changes they could make to the system while remaining focused on meeting children’s unique needs. The awareness campaign during the 2021 legislative session generated 80,000 ad impressions and 2,000 ad engagements. Op-eds were placed in three major publications across the state.
Gov. Reynolds has championed funding proposals and has allowed CARES Act funding to go to mental health regions to create core children’s mental health services. Yeast is now advocating with state leaders for additional federal dollars to be used to build a comprehensive mental health system for children, even though those dollars are one-time, competitive grants.