Sen. Somers Names Jeanne Milstein to Key Youth Mental Health Panel

August 5, 2023

New London’s Milstein tasked with addressing a state youth mental health ‘crisis’

By John Penney, The Day, New London, Conn.

A group of lawmakers, health care professionals, mental health experts and child advocates, including New London’s director of human services, will meet next month to begin the work of assessing and improving the state’s youth behavioral health system.

Jeanne Milstein was appointed last month to the Transforming Children’s Behavioral Health Policy and Planning Committee by state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, ranking senator of the legislature’s Public Health Committee.

“We’re in a children’s mental and behavior health crisis right now, which the pandemic exacerbated,” said Milstein, who served from 2000 to 2012 as the child advocate at the state Office of the Child Advocate, the independent agency tasked with overseeing the care and protection of children. “We’re seeing the needs increase, with youth suicides up and the age of children in those situations going down.”

A 2021 Connecticut School Health Survey found 14.1% of students in grades 9 through 12 said they “seriously considered” a suicide attempt during the previous 12 months, according to the state Department of Health. In the same survey, the percentage of actual suicide attempts among high school students demonstrated a declining trend from 2017 to 2021, decreasing from 8.1% to 5.9%.

The committee, headed by state Rep. Tammy Exum, D-West Hartford, state Sens. Ceci Maher, D-Wilton, and Claudio Gaultieri, a senior adviser with the state Office of Policy and Management, was formed as part of legislation passed in 2022, but funding issues delayed the start of its work to this year.

The panel, which will meet monthly, is empowered with evaluating the “availability and efficacy of prevention, early intervention, and behavioral health treatment services and options for children from birth to age eighteen” and make governance and administrative recommendations to lawmakers and executive agencies.

That work will also include identifying and addressing service gaps and making the behavior health field — one Milstein said struggles to retain employees — attractive to graduates and professionals.

Somers said Milstein’s “distinguished career in public service to children and families in Connecticut” made her committee appointment an easy decision.

“We have a children’s mental health crisis in Connecticut and I can think of no one better to help address it than Jeanne,” she said in an emailed statement.

Milstein said while the panel’s charge of examining and improving a massive, complex health care system might seem daunting, it’s by no means insurmountable.

“You break it down into pieces: What services are available, who’s eligible, how’s the access and what are the costs?” she said. “And for me, I want to know about those first visits a child and family have, to have them walk me through the process they experienced as well as who’s tracking and following the outcomes.”

The group will receive staffing support from the University of Connecticut and the University of New Haven.

Milstein said any of the committee’s recommendations should be buttressed by evidence-based data and include a cultural care component.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to children’s mental health,” she said.

Milstein’s fellow committee members were drawn from the fields of psychiatry, family services, education and community health.

“But most important for me are those impacted families, the ones with lived experiences,” she said. “I want to make sure every dollar is being spent in the most effective way.”