Girls happily reading their books - at Orchard Place Des Moines

Task Force Formed to Develop Children's Mental Health Crisis Services for Polk County


As a result of a study and community meetings conducted by A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, (AMOS) a new task force is working to create children's mental health crisis services for Central Iowans.  Seventeen mental health organizations, local hospitals, and civic leaders are taking part in the new Children's Mental Health Crisis Services Task Force.

Few options exist for families dealing with a child who is experiencing a mental health crisis.  Families either take their child to hospital emergency rooms or call the police, who usually transport children to the nearest hospital emergency room.  Parents with children in crisis at the emergency room may be given the option of temporarily hospitalizing their child or may be sent home with a list of mental health resources which they must initiate on their own.  Getting services started is difficult to navigate and wait times to have their child see a mental health professional may take weeks and scheduling a psychiatric appointment may take months.

The Task Force began meeting in February.  After preliminary work of examining existing community services and how children's crisis services are utilized around the country, the group is now working to establish financial commitments for the new program.

“The Task Force is a highly motivated, problem-solving group of individuals determined to confront the lack of children’s mental health crisis services in our community,” said Anne Starr, Chief Executive Officer of Orchard Place.  “This Task Force is a culmination of many years of work by community members to call attention to the mental health needs of our children. The Task Force will also work with the momentum created with the Children’s Mental Health Bill passed this during the 2019 legislative session.”

 Members of the Task Force Include:

·         Angela Connolly – Polk County Board of Supervisors

·         Robert Brownell – Polk County Board of Supervisors

·         Frank Cownie - Des Moines Mayor

·         Scott Sanders – Des Moines City Manager

·         Cindy Elsbernd – Chair of the Des Moines School Board

·         A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS)

·         Broadlawns Hospital

·         Children and Families of Iowa (CFI)

·         Community Support Advocates (CSA)

·         Greater Des Moines Partnership

·         MercyOne

·         NAMI – Greater Des Moines

·         Orchard Place

·         Please Pass The Love

·         Polk County Health Services

·         UnityPoint Health – Des Moines

·         Youth Emergency Shelter and Services (YESS)

The Children's Mental Health Crisis Services Task Force is now in the process of contacting stakeholders in the community to discuss what the new services will look like as well as a timeline for implementation.  The new services that will be delivered will not be a duplication of existing services.

In 2016, Orchard Place formed a Crisis Planning Stakeholder group of more than 35 agencies, which explored research, current resources, and created an outline for a children’s mental health crisis response system.  That group’s work is being used as a guide for the Task Force. United Way of Central Iowa, the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines funded that work. 

“United Way of Central Iowa appreciates the efforts made by the Governor and the Legislature to take the first step in creating a children’s mental health system, but there is more work to be done as there continue to be significant gaps in these critical services, “said Elisabeth Buck, President of United Way of Central Iowa.  “A most urgent need is crisis response services that come to the aid of the child and family.  This gap often causes families to seek out this help in hospital emergency rooms that are not equipped to address the crises.  United Way believes that a more effective mental health crisis response for children and their families is both cost-effective as well as more likely to bring positive outcomes for the entire community.”

Orchard Place is the oldest locally-based charity in Des Moines providing mental health treatment and expertise for Iowa’s kids. Our inpatient, outpatient and community programs serve more than 8,000 children annually. Three operating divisions work under the Orchard Place umbrella of services: Child Guidance Center, Orchard Place Campus, PACE Juvenile Center / Integrated Health Program. More information can be found at