Jackson County voters renew hope for children

As 2016 winds down, we begin our annual blog series where Health Forward associates review highlights from our work this past year. In our seventh post, Donna Bushur and Shannon Morris review the benefits of a children’s fund that Jackson County voters approved. Join us as we look back on 2016. 

Last year, in Jackson County, nearly 6,000 children were hospitalized due to mental health issues. Wait times for mental health services were anywhere from four weeks to four months. Another 4,000 children were homeless. Wait times for shelters weren’t much better, ranging from one to four weeks. On an average day, 1,785 children are living in foster care.

Did you read those statistics? We know. It’s easy to skim numbers. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that statistics are actually people.

And in this particular case, these statistics are our own Jackson County children.

That’s why a group of organizations, advocates and elected officials came together to create the Children’s Service Fund Coalition. This coalition put forth an effort to pass the Jackson County Children tax – a 1/8-cent sales tax that will raise $15 million each year to help our children and youth by expanding the county’s mental health services, anti-bullying programs in schools, resources to prevent teen suicide, safe neighborhood initiatives and services for homeless youth.

And it is because we all want to keep our children healthy and safe that voters in Jackson County said yes to the Jackson County Children tax in November.

That is some very good news.

At the end of day, it was an easy decision. For every $1 invested, taxpayers are estimated to save $11 by reducing crime rates, increasing graduation rates and decreasing the needed cost of substance abuse and mental health treatment. Put another way, you just gave our Jackson County children a much brighter future.

And we know this to be true. Over the past 10 years, we’ve watched seven other regions in our state pass similar taxes and see similar outcomes. In fact, 12 years ago, St. Charles County in Missouri was ranked 87th out of 114 counties in Missouri for the condition of children. After establishing a children’s services fund, they are now ranked #1.

The tax money will be overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the county executive. The committee will be comprised with non-agency, non-political volunteers to oversee distribution of funds. No special interest groups, just people interested in our children’s future.

The Health Forward Foundation has been a proud supporter of this effort. In an ugly election season with partisan bickering, it was refreshing to be part of an effort that garnered non-partisan support and put our children’s needs at the forefront.

It is our privilege to work with over a hundred agencies working toward eliminating barriers to quality mental health. This year, we invested $4.25 million in our six-county service area to increase access for prevention, assessment, support and treatment services for children and adults with mental health issues. In an ideal world, this funding would be enough to reduce these statistics. But additional resources are needed to tackle these issues together as a community.

As we look back on 2016, we are grateful that Jackson County voters agreed that an additional steady stream of funding is needed for these services. It gives us renewed hope for renewed health.

Read more from authors in this series:

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