ROCKY HILL, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families plans to hold at least a dozen forums across the state to gather public input about the need for mental health services for children in the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
On Tuesday, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said input from families will play a key role in helping DCF develop a plan to address the behavioral health needs of children across state, not just children under the purview of DCF. The plan, due by October, was required under legislation passed last year in response to the school shooting.
“No question, the families and the children are the best experts on what they need,” Katz said.
DCF plans to work on the new plan with the nonprofit Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, a group that specializes in children’s mental health and development. The institute will organize the community forums and public input, as well as collect and analyze data.
Officials hope to gather input on a host of issues at the forums, including the need for early identification of mental illness, prevention and intervention, access to community-based services, services for people with autism and disabilities, crisis response and management, and the role of commercial insurance and how much mental health coverage private plans provide.
Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation, said the organization is providing $75,000 toward the statewide planning process because there is a need across Connecticut to better screen young people for behavioral health issues and provide families with resources.
“The stakes are very high,” Baker said. “This isn’t about one community that was scarred in Connecticut.”
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first graders and six educators. Lanza, who had killed his mother earlier in the day, later committed suicide.
Documents recently released by the state police show a Yale professor diagnosed Lanza in 2006 with “profound Autism Spectrum Disorder, with rigidity, isolation, and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications,” while also displaying symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Adam Lanza’s father, Peter, told police that his son had Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism that is not associated with violence.
A spokesman for Peter Lanza last week said the father is willing to help another commission, created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after the massacre, to obtain his late son’s medical records in order to get a better picture of Adam Lanza’s mental health issues and to determine whether there were any gaps in treatment that other families may be experiencing. Malloy’s commission expects to present its recommendations for improving mental health care in Connecticut around the end of March.