Blueprint for a Brighter Future: Innovative Solutions for Pennsylvania’s Youth with Complex Needs

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS)

HARRISBURG, PA — As the pace of life accelerates, so does the complexity of the challenges that our children and young adults face. In Pennsylvania, an interdisciplinary workgroup, the Blueprint Workgroup, spearheaded by the Department of Human Services (DHS), is paving the way toward a brighter, more inclusive future for youth with complex, co-occurring physical and behavioral health needs.

The workgroup comprises representatives from state and local governments, the healthcare sector, education, service providers, and managed care, as well as family advocates. Together, they are working to mitigate the struggles these children and their families often encounter, such as accessing adaptable care and services, reducing engagement with the child welfare system, minimizing instability-induced trauma, championing emotional well-being, and promoting family- and youth-driven care decisions.

“The detailed recommendations outlined by the Blueprint Workgroup set a course that now allows DHS and partners at the local level and systems of care to begin the work necessary to see how we make change happen so children with complex needs get the care that improves their quality of life, and the family is supported as they navigate these systems,” asserted Dr. Val Arkoosh, Secretary of DHS.

In today’s world, one in six children grapple with a diagnosed behavioral or developmental disorder, and rates of depression and anxiety are on a sobering rise among children and young adults. Children and youth with overlapping physical health, behavioral health, and/or intellectual disability – including autism-related needs – are considered complex cases that necessitate meticulous coordination between multiple care and service providers.

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Unfortunately, this coordination often falls into a frightening labyrinth of multiple county and state-level entities, encompassing healthcare, education, disability services, child welfare, foster care, and justice systems. Coupled with the commonplace risks and exposure to neglect, abuse, trauma, educational disruptions, communication challenges, and a complex diagnostic history, these children frequently encounter confusion and miscommunication that jeopardize their care.

The Blueprint Workgroup, however, is resolute in its mission. They argue that children with complex needs should have unhindered access to the care and support they require, while their families and guardians should be equally equipped with support as they navigate these convoluted systems.

The workgroup’s recommendations spotlight prevention through early identification of needs, improving information sharing among child-serving systems, developing clear guidance for multi-system case planning, supporting a dedicated workforce, conducting system needs analysis, and ingraining understanding of trauma across service systems.

The group’s work marks a significant milestone in bolstering the support for children and youth with complex needs and their families. Further cementing this commitment, Pennsylvania has been selected as one of eight states participating in a children’s behavioral health policy collaborative involving several national agencies. This effort will continue to refine the alignment of multi-system work to support youth with behavioral health needs.

Pennsylvania’s Blueprint Workgroup provides a profound example of what collaborative, conscious work can achieve, not only for our youth but also for entire communities. As we step into a future brimming with challenges we can’t yet foresee, initiatives like these ensure that our most valued assets – our children – are equipped, supported, and cared for, creating a blueprint we can all follow toward a better future.

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