The Daily News of Newburyport, September 20, 2023

To the editor:

Christian Wade’s September 18 article, Lawmakers seek to ease backlog of “stuck” kids, shines a welcome spotlight on many of the barriers facing children and families – particularly those from low-income households – seeking to access behavioral health care. In the face of an unprecedented mental health crisis for children and teens coupled with a severe shortage of clinicians, we must look for ways not only to prevent children from being stranded in hospitals but to prevent them from landing in the hospital in the first place.

Here at the nonprofit Children and Teen Center for Help (CATCH) in Amesbury, a program of Link House, our focus is prevention. Ninety-five percent of the children we serve are insured by MassHealth, and many have complex behavioral health care needs. Half are experiencing school failure, and many have a parent who is struggling with substance use disorder. About 20% are being followed by the Department of Children and Families, close to 30% of those under 12 are living with or have been adopted by a grandparent or other extended family member, and 12% are in foster care.

CATCH currently serves 80 children and teens, including on location in five local schools, but there are many more on our waiting list in need of care. We’re working to hire additional staff to meet the need and hope that we can provide support to some of these young people before they experience a crisis that would send them to the emergency room or a residential program. Like many other nonprofit organizations, we face the intertwined challenges of a state-wide shortage of qualified staff and funding constraints that limit our ability to offer competitive wages to attract and retain qualified candidates, particularly for young people worried about paying off student loans.

Governor Maura Healey’s pledge to increase funding and resources to expand the number of beds and provide more incentives to alleviate the workforce shortage is a positive step. We urge elected officials at every level to look at the entire spectrum of behavioral health care services as they work to alleviate the behavioral health crisis for children in Massachusetts. CATCH is one such invaluable service on that spectrum. We could reach more children and teens to do essential prevention work, and keep children and teens out of the hospital, with the allocation of increased resources right now.

Carolyn Gayler-Romero
Program Director
Children and Teen Center for Help
Amesbury, MA