New Tax Could Help Families Get More Mental Health Services

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COLUMBIA - A new quarter-cent sales tax in Boone County is raising money for children's mental health and shelter services. The tax comes after voters passed Proposition 1 in November.

An assessment by the MU Institute of Public Policy in 2011 identified the need for more resources to support youth, adults and families. The assessment found agencies turned away nearly 2,900 children and families who sought counseling. Furthermore, 13 percent of Boone County youth reported considering suicide in the past year and more than 65 youths were homeless.

The tax will go toward services that help those ages 19 and younger. Proponents believe it will provide an additional $4-5 million in funding for children's mental health care.

One Columbia family says any extra resources will help. Maureen and Aaron Harris were once foster parents to Sarah, 9, and Abby, 4, but adopted them within the last year. The transition was tough, especially when trying to find resources to help the girls talk about their troubled pasts and shift to new surroundings.

Maureen said Sarah and Abby both need supplemental care, including speech, occupational and physical therapy.

"With only getting Medicaid, you only get certain kinds of services and so it's been really hard just to find appropriate therapy," added Maureen.

The Harrises are even willing to take in more foster children, but said they would not be able to provide adequate care for them without additional resources and funding. They hope that this new tax will change that.

Christine Corcoran, Director of Regional Operations for Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri, believes the new tax will make "a huge dent in the need."

She added that other counties with a similar tax have seen a significant decrease in teenage delinquency, teen suicide, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy and teen violence.

The earliest the money collected from the tax can be distributed is the end of 2013.