Children’s Mental Health
As we move on from the pandemic, it is clear that back-to-normalcy won’t happen quickly, especially with our kids. Not only did they lose more than a year of in-person learning, but they also lost emotional and social development that comes with human interaction. Isolation, anxiety, stress and depression are among the impacts of distance learning, and they will last long after schools reopen.
Thanks to a budget surplus and an infusion of federal funds, California is in a unique position to make transformational changes to our youth mental health system. As Assembly budget chair, I support an investment of more than $4 billion to address our children’s needs now and further in the post-pandemic future.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that from mid-March to October 2020, emergency room visits by children having mental health issues rose dramatically when compared to the previous year. For youngsters 5 to 11 years old, the rate was 24% higher, while adolescents 12 to 17 years old jumped 31%.
Locally, the San Francisco Department of Public Health compared the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessments performed by Children, Youth and Families System of Care (CYF) providers before and after the shelter-in-place orders were issued. Comparisons found increases in the areas of depression, anxiety and substance use and marked increases in psychosis, suicide risk, and sleep disruption.
This is why the State Budget funds the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative. The Initiative strengthens partnerships between school districts and their county behavioral health departments so they can better connect students to mental health screenings and care. With increased grant funding, more providers will be available and more services can be offered on-site at schools.
We also plan to address trauma. Research shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are linked to chronic health problems, substance abuse and mental illness. They can also negatively impact academic performance, job opportunities and earning potential. The state budget allocates funding to research, treat and prevent ACEs.
Furthermore, we will address inequities in access to treatment for children who require language and culturally competent services. For individuals on Medi-Cal, additional services to address mild to moderate mental health needs will be added to their benefits.
In under-resourced neighborhoods, we can scale up youth drop-in wellness centers. We additionally hope to develop a Peer Social Media Network to support K-12 students who are being bullied or are at risk of being bullied.
Of course, an expansion of this significance will require a larger corps of behavioral health professionals. California will invest in programs like apprenticeships and peer training while also boosting education loan repayment, scholarships and stipends to encourage more Californians to enter the behavioral health field.
Unquestionably, the need for mental health services in our post-pandemic world has grown. We must meet the challenge. If your children are in need of support, this budget will be there for them. If you have a desire to help our kids, now is the time to get into the profession. Helping our children regain their social and emotional footing is just as important as catching them up academically, if we want them to grow up to be healthy adults.
If you or someone you know is seeking mental health support, contact the state-funded Mental Health Association of San Francisco Peer Warm Line at 855-845-7415.
Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City. He lives in the Sunset District. He can be reached at (415) 557-2312 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and updates, visit https://a19.asmdc.org.