In today’s Dallas Morning News, research associate Erin Espinosa discusses the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) Waiver, a cost-neutral Medicaid waiver that provides an alternative to foster care and juvenile justice for children with serious mental health needs. When unmet, these needs lead to behaviors characterized by severe symptoms that could range from suicidal attempt to harming others, setting fires, running away, destroying property, and exhibiting psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. When families cannot afford the services these children need, many times they are left with the heartbreaking decision to call the police or relinquish their child to the foster care system in order to access care.

“The YES Waiver provides an alternative to foster care and juvenile justice, allowing parents to keep their kids at home and, most importantly, allowing children to grow up in their homes and communities surrounded by their teachers, coaches, parents and friends. The program covers, at no extra cost, services not typically covered by Medicaid, such as nonmedical transportation and music or arts therapy. Eligibility is based on the child’s income rather than that of the adults in the family, making every child in Texas eligible,” Espinosa says in her editorial (read it here).

Erin Espinosa is a researcher at the School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, which seeks to enhance the use of effective practices throughout the state of Texas, enhance the capacity of the mental health workforce, empower communities to develop resilience and recovery-oriented systems, and evaluate state and local efforts to improve service systems for adults, youth, and children facing mental health challenges.