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Local advocate testifies before Senate committee

Karen Waddle began her career in mental health services about 10 years ago when a family member needed assistance.

She educated herself on the complexities of the issue and was eventually hired as a parent advocate by Dreamcatchers, a branch of a federal program aimed at assisting families in need.

She is now considered one of the leaders in her field — one of just 10 statewide PAC (Parent Advocate Connection program) coordinators appointed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Ohio.

Last week, she testified before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee as part of testimony for SB 119. She explained the need for additional funding for mental health services.

“It was a great privilege to be asked to do that, but it also made me nervous,” said Waddle, a 55-year-old Pedro resident. “I was asked if I thought there was a need for more money to be allocated. I told them there was a great need and that many families were falling through the cracks because there’s no money to help them.”

Waddle is now employed in Lawrence County by Integrated Services for Youth and the Mended Reeds Mental Health facility. She works with the courts and various agencies — including Lawrence County Children Services — to help families who have children with mental health problems, such as Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

She is also NAMI’s parent advocate for a 15-county area that stretches from Adams County to Gallia County and Lawrence County to Pickaway County. She was trying to impress upon the finance committee that funding mental health programs is cost efficient and saves the state money in the long run.

“It costs more to put a child through foster care than to educate a family and send them on their way,” said Waddle, who said her programs served more than 600 families and 1,000 children in the 2006 fiscal year. “It’s far more costly.”

Waddle said the parent advocates who work with families — about 200 of them — are paid nominally and the need is far greater than the resources available.

She said the parent advocates have a wide range of duties and are often people who have been through the systems and have first-hand experience with the hardships families face.

“It’s a big support team,” she said. “A lot of time they’ll just be on the phone listening to a mother cry about losing their child.”

Waddle said rural Ohio faces different hurdles that other parts of the state. She said families going through the difficulties of having an at-risk or mentally-ill child are not in close proximity and are often unaware of the services available to them.

“Being in a rural area makes it harder because many of our people don’t know there are people here who can help them,” she said. “I told the committee that I’ve heard it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a state to make a difference in whether a child can succeed. If we had more money, more children could succeed in this area.”

To contact Waddle for more information about available services, call (740) 532-1613 or e-mail her at waddle_1951@sbcglobal.net.