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BIPARTISAN LAWMAKERS UNVEIL LEGISLATION ADDRESSING CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH

Posted on February 18, 2022


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(HARTFORD, CT) – Today, members of the Connecticut General Assembly- led by Speaker of the House Matt Ritter (D-Hartford), House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford, Manchester), and State Representatives Tammy Exum (D-West Hartford, Avon, Farmington), Liz Linehan (D-Cheshire, Southington, Wallingford), Tammy Nuccio (R-Ashford, Tolland, Willington), William A. Petit Jr. (R-Plainville, New Britain) and Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport) unveiled legislation which prioritizes the mental health of Connecticut children and families.

With increasing suicide rates among children and teens, the mental health and well-being of children in Connecticut has been a source of concern for many parents and caregivers even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic, those concerns have grown even more dire. Parents, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and teachers have all experienced frustration at the system’s failure to adequately address the mental health needs of all children in Connecticut.

Help for children is on the way. House Bill 5001 , An Act Concerning Children’s Mental Health, addresses the mental health crisis in Connecticut through five main components:

Invests in Workforce Development
o Establishes license reciprocity for out-of-state mental health professionals to increase the number of providers.
o Establishes a student loan forgiveness program for eligible mental health workers who serve children and adolescents and who work in shortage areas.
o Establishes a new grant program for hiring new child and adolescent psychiatrists and to retain currently employed child and adolescent psychiatrists.

Expands Current Systems
o Expands ACCESS Mental Health to provide up to three follow-up telehealth visits directly to patients after a pediatrician has first utilized ACCESS Mental Health on behalf of a patient.
o Expands DCF online listings of mental health services by region to assist local pediatricians’ offices in referring patients to next-level care.
o Extends telehealth through 2024.

Supports Mental Health in Schools
o Establishes a grant program to local school boards to hire social workers & school psychologists.
o Establishes a new grant program for the delivery of school-based delivery of mental health services to children and adolescents.
o Creates and funds the new position of “Trauma Coordinator” in SDE to oversee trauma informed practice training and best practices for teachers, administrators, coaches, SROs, and staff in all school districts.

Redefines Insurance Coverage for Children with Mental Illness
o Requires individual and group health insurers to cover intensive evidence-based services used to treat mental and behavioral health conditions in children and adolescents.
o Requires individual and group insurers to cover collaborative care for behavioral healthcare.

Provides Resources for Providers & Programs to Directly Care for Children
o Provides and funds a Continuing Education program for pediatricians to help develop skills in treating pediatric behavioral health issues.
o Directs DPH to develop or procure a mental and behavioral health screening tool which shall be completed by children and, when appropriate, parents prior to each annual pediatrician visit.

“Over the past two years, mental health issues among all age groups have increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and those statistics are especially alarming due to its rise among children,” Rep. Petit said. “Our main objective with this bill is to increase access to care over both the short and long-term and feel it achieves that goal through licensure reciprocity, the expansion of mobile resources and grant programs for care and medications, and improvement in suicide prevention resources. This bill acknowledges and addresses the importance in providing more resources and training related to children’s mental health.”

“The pandemic directed a spotlight on the pediatric mental health crisis across the country,” Speaker of the House Matt Ritter said. “In cities, suburbs and our most rural areas, children need access to services and support. This legislation will help children and families get the care they need.”

“One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing your kid needs help but being unable to find them appropriate care. The pandemic has been trying on all of us, and one of the areas that it has exposed as an area needing attention is our pediatric mental health system,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas. “This bill is an opportunity to close the gaps in our state’s mental health care system and strengthen it for years to come.”

“We are currently facing a youth mental health crisis across our state and the country. While we saw a rise in depression, anxiety, self-harm, and other forms of distress prior to the pandemic, the increase in isolation and uncertainty over the past two years has exacerbated this issue for young people,” said Rep. Liz Linehan, Chair of the Committee on Children. “This comprehensive piece of legislation addresses the immediate, intermediate and long term needs of Connecticut’s mental and behavior health system for children by expanding mental health services in our schools, addressing gaps in insurance coverage, and strengthening community services for mental health before a child reaches a need for crisis-level care.”

“I’m so proud of this comprehensive bill because it should truly provide long overdue support for Connecticut children and families,” said Rep. Exum. “Each component of this legislation presents an opportunity to transform how mental health services are administered, including the important component of addressing workforce issues that currently prevent some children from accessing professionals who are able to provide timely quality care.”

“One of the most wrenching aspects of our shredded healthcare safety net has been the impact on children’s mental health access,” said Rep. Steinberg. “We can no longer ignore the consequences of relegating mental health to second-class status in funding decisions. This bill is expansive and comprehensive, hopefully commensurate with the magnitude of the challenges before us. We’re committed to using this moment to tackle long overdue gaps in care and develop a long-term plan for pediatric and mental health care reform.”

“For years Connecticut, and the entirety of the United States, has been building towards a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has done nothing but exacerbate the issue. It is time for us to make mental health a priority and move forward by creating a system that meets our needs,” said Rep. Nuccio. “By incentivizing mental health workers to stay and practice in Connecticut, this bill will make important progress towards increasing mental health accessibility and affordability. Additionally, this proposal works to expand the services available to children in schools and provides resources to the systems we currently have in place. I am thankful to have been a part of the team working towards meeting this need for the residents of Connecticut.”

“Our lives stop when our children are unwell. Some of the most challenging issues in children’s health are their well-being and emotional and mental health,” said State Sen. Saud Anwar. “In recent years, we have seen an increased trajectory of reports confirming that, as a state, we can do far better to take care of children’s mental health. This legislation is the effort of the Children’s Committee and the Public Health Committee to put our efforts, resources and commitment to ensure that the well-being of our children will remain at the forefront of our priorities and we will be able to have a comprehensive strategy to take care of their mental health needs.”

“Today’s announcement is historic and transformative,” said Howard Sovronsky, Chief Behavioral Health Officer at Connecticut Children’s. “We commend our legislative leaders for their willingness to be bold in their vision for addressing the needs of children with mental health conditions.”

To read the raised bill in full, CLICK HERE.

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