Mental health care for kids will continue

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By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Despite funding cuts, children's outpatient services are still available through Tuolumne County Behavioral Health.

Three weeks ago, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors cut funding for the AB 3632 program, which provided money for county mental health departments to take some of the financial responsibility for serving special education children with mental health needs.

In anticipation of Gov. Gray Davis' budget plan and after Davis announced the state's $35 billion shortfall, the county made the cuts.

Since AB 3632 passed in 1984, Tuolumne County Behavioral Health has provided disabled students with mental health services, helping them fit in better at school through counseling, therapy and other free services.

Mental health workers also sit in on students' individualized education plan meetings, pointing parents and educators toward the right services for each child.

Sometimes, the right service is a residential placement in another county or state. Under AB 3632, the county was also responsible for the cost of residential placement. Last year, seven children's needs cost the county $102,871.

Because it is a federal mandate to provide children with free, appropriate education, the state issued funds for the program. But the amount was for a short period of time more than a decade ago, and the money for outpatient services in Tuolumne County totaled a meager $14,017.

Compounding the funding shortage, Davis last year suspended payment of the $14,017 until fiscal year 2003-2004. In this year's proposed budget, the money is postponed for another year.

However, services will continue.

"There was never any money," said Bea Readel, director of the Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Department. "But the mandate to serve this population has been in place since 1959 for medically necessary treatments. We will continue to provide the services."

Readel said children's Medi-Cal and private insurance often have to pay for the mental health care.

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