Ensuring Revamped HHS Advisory Committees Are Step Forward, Not Back

The state Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) continues to move forward with the agency consolidation and transformation process, taking the steps outlined in our recent blog post and appointing leaders of 13 workgroups to guide the transition.

Most recently, HHSC announced the changes made to the current HHS advisory committee structure. The final list is available here and the agency’s update on the process is available here.

You may be wondering, "What’s the big deal about how the state’s health and human service advisory bodies are structured?” Well, on the plus side, by combining or eliminating some existing advisory committees, there are opportunities to increase the effectiveness of advisory committees. With fewer channels funneling information to our state policymakers, the remaining channels voices should come in more loud and clear.

Yet the loss of separate and distinct advisory bodies may limit the opportunities for state agencies to communicate and coordinate on issues that impact children and families who fall outside a given agency’s narrow boundaries of populations or issues. There’s also a real risk that some populations, issues, or voices will get lost in the shuffle.

Case in point: The Council on Children and Families, which addresses issues related to all children and families, will be combined with theChildren's Policy Council, which focuses on children with disabilities, as well as the Inter-Agency Task force onChildren with Special Needs, which serves children with special health needs.

Over the next few months, HHSC will determine the mandate and composition of this "new” committee. It will be important for us as child advocates and concerned citizens to share our perspective with HHSC to ensure that the newly constituted committee addresses the needs of all the children served by its three predecessor committees.

This and other committees must also include meaningful representation of the families and communities who are being served. Take heed of the wise voices of our consumer and family advocate partners who note the state should not make decisions "about us, without us.”

HHSC also plans to combine two committees addressing children's mental health into one standing subcommittee of the newly established Behavioral Health Advisory Committee, which will address mental health and substance abuse issues for children and adults. It will absorb the Texas System of Care Consortium, which addresses children with mental illness, and the functions of theTexas Children Recovering from Trauma Steering Committee, which promotes trauma-informed care in community mental health centers.

It makes sense to have these groups inform the broader Behavioral Health Advisory Committee. Yet, these same groups should also inform the work of the new, expanded children and families committee we discussed above. The same goes for the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Advisory Committee and the Texas School Health Advisory Committee, two committees that are continuing without changes and at this time appear to be disconnected from other similarly aligned committees.

The devil will be in the details. Who will serve on these committees and subcommittees? What will they be required to do? What will be the scope of their work? What support will they receive? How will they inform one another? How much influence will their recommendation have on HHSC?

By March 1, 2016, HHSC must adopt the rules that will answer many, if not all, of these questions. It is up to the public to provide input and guidance to HHSC as the agency develops these rules so that the advisory structure that emerges is one that is effective, robust, efficient, and -- most importantly -- helps to guide policies, programs, and services that bring about the best possible outcomes for children in Texas.

As additional information becomes available, we will continue to update you on new developments and opportunities to share your perspective with the state officials guiding the transformation process. In the meantime, consider joining Texans Care for Children at the next meeting of our Texas Children’s Mental Health Forum, where we’ll have a group discussion on what stakeholders would like to see in the new advisory body structure. We’ll meet on November 18 at 12:30 at 1106 Clayton Lane in Austin. Email me at jsaxton@txchildren.org if you have any questions.