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HomeHealthWhat California can do to improve children’s mental health

What California can do to improve children’s mental health

Californian children are in trouble. Unprecedented levels of toxic stress and trauma resulting from the pandemic have exacerbated a pre-existing crisis in children’s mental health.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, rates of teenage suicide and self-harm were on the rise. Now, almost two years after the start of the pandemic, social isolation, emotional disconnection, economic stress and the physical impact of COVID have taken its toll on our young people and exacerbated an already critical problem.

The Little Hoover Commission, the independent watchdog of the California government, is calling on the state to strengthen its system to support children’s mental and emotional well-being. The state should appoint a responsible leader, set clear goals, encourage coordination, and use schools as key sites to help children. This will ensure that the state uses funds dedicated to the mental and emotional well-being of children effectively and in a way that has the most impact, both short and long term.

COVID has had a particularly powerful impact. It has been a major cause of stress and anxiety as pandemic safety measures – including social distancing and distance learning – have cut many children from their usual sources of support.

Chronic stress affects the ability of many children to regulate their emotions and behaviors, to pay attention, and to start and complete tasks. Educators see this firsthand.

While many children returned to in-person learning this fall, school districts have reported increasing truancy rates and an increase in student bad behavior. Worse yet, at the start of 2021, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts were almost 51% higher among teenage girls and 4% higher among teenagers compared to the same time period in 2019.

Major national organizations declared a state of emergency for children’s mental health this fall. The U.S. surgeon general released an advisory last month with recommendations for supporting children amid the mental health crisis.

But California has long struggled to adequately support the mental and emotional well-being of children.

Its child mental health support system faces a host of systemic barriers – including decentralization and labor shortages – that prevent children from accessing much-needed mental health services. . In 2018, California ranked 48th nationwide to provide mental health services to children.

In addition, access to health care is often the most difficult for young people from minority and low-income communities, who have also suffered the brunt of the impacts of the pandemic.

The good news is that Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature have taken essential steps to improve California’s system for supporting children’s mental health. Last year they created the Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative – an investment of $ 4.4 billion in the development of a comprehensive mental health care system for Californians from birth to 25 years old.

In our report, COVID-19 and children’s mental health, the committee calls for further reforms to ensure that the behavioral health initiative achieves its potential:

First, establish a single point of comprehensive leadership for children’s mental health. This statewide leader should be responsible for creating clear plans for the coordination and implementation of the Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative.

Second, set clear results goals. The state should establish goals for children’s mental health based on key parameters related to general mental well-being, access to care and quality of care.

Third, to promote coordination around mental health care and services for children. The state should increase the support and technical assistance it provides to counties, health plans and other mental health providers. By cultivating a culture around collaboration and support, state and local governments can work better together to advance statewide goals.

Finally, focus schools as sites for supporting children’s mental well-being. The state should encourage schools to develop comprehensive plans to coordinate student mental health services, use and share data, and integrate new and existing funding to create sustainable mental wellness programs.

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