To the Editor:
The children’s mental health system in Connecticut needs additional support, resources and structural changes as a rise in depression, anxiety, self-harm and other forms of distress evident before the pandemic have been exacerbated during the last two years amid increased isolation and uncertainty.
HB 5001, An Act Concerning Children’s Mental Health, is a comprehensive, bipartisan piece of legislation encompassing schools, healthcare settings, insurance eligibility, screening tools and more.
For schools, HB 5001 establishes grant programs for local school boards to hire social workers and school psychologists in addition to the delivery of school-based mental health services. Plus, it creates and funds the new “Trauma Coordinator” position in the state Department of Education (SDE) to oversee trauma-informed practice training and best practices for teachers, administrators, coaches, school resource officers, and staff in all school districts.
It also requires schools to adopt an improved trauma-informed truancy intervention model developed by SDE, which considers the differences in truancy and school refusal due to mental health issues and for school districts to assess the resources needed to address student trauma impacting children and staff in its schools.
When it comes to insurance, the bill prohibits “forced diagnosis,” which is a known barrier to continuing care and requires individual and group health insurers to cover intensive, evidence-based services used to treat mental and behavioral health conditions in children and adolescents. It also bars individual and group insurers from requiring prior authorization for patients who require acute psychiatric inpatient care.
The state Healthcare Advocate must also designate an employee to ensure its existing services to minors and access to mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse services for minors.
There is also a workforce development aspect to HB 5001, including license reciprocity for out-of-state mental health professionals to increase the number of providers, and establishment of a need-based state licensure fee scholarship with a focus on diverse applicants and a student loan forgiveness program for eligible mental health workers who serve children and adolescents and who work in shortage areas.
HB 5001 is an essential piece of legislation. I have only highlighted some aspects of it. Ultimately, it may undergo some changes as part of the legislative process, but the bill’s heart addresses the mental and behavioral health system’s needs, which I am committed to improving for our children.
I will be working to ensure passage and funding of this bill before session ends on May 4 because our children need this critical help now.