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CHDI Releases New Strategic Plan to Strengthen Connecticut's Behavioral Health Workforce

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This is the first in a special blog series taking a closer look at Connecticut’s behavioral health workforce challenges and the strategic plan’s recommendations.

Last Updated January 18, 2024

“It took four months to get an initial appointment and at least a half day on the phone trying to find [a provider] who was available.” - Survey response from Connecticut parent, 2023

“I enjoy my profession and would love to remain as a behavioral [health] provider for the rest of my career. However, this year has been extremely stressful, challenging, and tiring. I have…taken a couple of days to recover from burnout and still not fully recovered upon my return to work.” - Survey response from Connecticut behavioral health provider, 2023

Connecticut’s behavioral health system for children, youth, and families stands upon a sturdy foundation, including a robust continuum of services, a specific focus on the child and youth population, access to evidence-based practices, and a dedicated network of providers.

However, like most states across the country, Connecticut is grappling with a behavioral health workforce shortage combined with increased demand for services. A recent survey of the state’s community-based behavioral health providers revealed a 39% staff turnover rate in the past year, with more than one in five positions vacant. At the same time, surveys show increasing rates of youth reporting feeling sad or helpless (from 25% in 2005 to 36% in 2021, according to the annual CT Youth Risk Behavior Survey), with even higher rates among girls, Black and Latinx youth, and LGBTQ+ youth. 

“These challenges are the result of both increasing behavioral health needs and longstanding underfunding of the children’s behavioral health system,” says Jason Lang, PhD, CHDI Chief Program Officer.  “As a result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain clinicians and other staff to effectively serve children and families.” 

Who is the Behavioral Health Workforce?

Backing up for a moment, let's define exactly who we're talking about when we refer to the "behavioral health workforce." According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this workforce includes:

  • Addiction counselors
  • Advanced practice psychiatric nurses (APRNs)
  • Certified prevention specialists
  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Mental health/professional counselors
  • Paraprofessionals (e.g., case managers, homeless outreach specialists, or parent aides)
  • Peer support specialists
  • Psychiatric aides and technicians
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation specialists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Recovery coaches
  • Clinical social workers

Community-based behavioral health agencies and clinics often employ clinicians and support staff from a variety of different professional backgrounds, each bringing their own unique perspectives and skills to the children and families they work with.

A New Strategy for Connecticut

Last November, CHDI and our partners released a new strategic plan to guide Connecticut in building a sustainable workforce capable of meeting the behavioral health needs of the state's children, youth, and families.

The plan provides Connecticut with a blueprint for supporting a strong, diverse, and competent behavioral health workforce, including:

  • A review of conditions contributing to the current workforce challenges, as well as the strengths in Connecticut's system of care for children
  • Examples from other states of best practices and innovative solutions that can be adopted in Connecticut to address immediate and long-term workforce needs
  • Eight recommendations for policy and system changes that emerged from a comprehensive and collaborative process inclusive of workforce, family, faculty, and national expert perspectives

“Families are increasingly struggling to access appropriate and timely services,” says Lang, who co-authored the plan. “This report identifies a number of specific strategies for the state and other stakeholders to strengthen the children’s behavioral health system and improve access to quality services for all children and families, whenever and wherever they are needed.”

Many past efforts at the state level have focused on improving and expanding services without a comparable investment in the workforce charged with delivering them. “We are funding services, but not at a level that meets the true cost of providing high-quality care - or that can sustainably attract and retain the workforce needed to deliver it,” explains Jeff Vanderploeg, PhD, CHDI President and CEO.

CHDI developed the plan in collaboration with the Children’s Behavioral Health Plan Implementation Advisory Board, with funding from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). A diverse group of nine Strategic Plan Advisors with expertise in Connecticut’s system of care for children provided guidance on the process and development of recommendations.

Additional input was gathered through a survey of Connecticut providers, families, and others (including the two included above); interviews with 20 experts in the field; and incorporation of feedback collected through a public comment period.

When we strengthen the behavioral health workforce, children, families, and communities in Connecticut are stronger. We urge state policymakers and advocates to read the new strategic plan as they develop legislation and budgets in the upcoming legislative session.

As the plan's lead author Aleece Kelly, MPP, CHDI Senior Associate, explains, the heart of the issue is simple: “The well-being of children is tied to the well-being of the behavioral health workforce.”

Learn more about the strategic plan, read an executive summary or download the full report, and view recent media coverage here.

Watch a recent presentation about the strategic plan by co-authors Jason Lang and Aleece Kelly at the CT State Legislature on CT-N here.

 

This is the first in a special blog series taking a closer look at Connecticut’s behavioral health workforce challenges and the strategic plan’s recommendations.

Stay tuned for deep dives into specific issues addressed in the plan, including insurance reimbursement rates, workforce retention strategies, equity and diversity, how other states are tackling this crisis, and more over the coming weeks and months.

Staff Contacts

Jason Lang, PhD - Chief Program Officer
jlang@chdi.org