CT bill aims to improve access to children’s services

By Andrew Cromarty
April 2nd, 2023

Children’s mental health will remain a top priority for Connecticut lawmakers this session. The state’s Children’s Committee and Committee on Education continue to address this issue that the U.S. Surgeon General deemed a national health crisis in 2021 with the proposal of a new bill.

Senate Bill No. 2 was proposed in January by the Committee on Children. Titled “An Act Concerning the Mental, Physical, and Emotional Wellness of Children,” the bill aims to improve access to mental, physical, and emotional health services for children and provide a continuum of care in the delivery of such services, according to the Connecticut General Assembly website.

“We find large numbers of children who continue to struggle with depression and anxiety, said Sen. Lisa Seminara, (R-Hartford) a ranking member of the Committee on Children. “We need to understand if our children are unintentionally being put at greater risk of mental health problems by changes in social pressures that have come about over the last 20 years.”

“We need to understand if our children are unintentionally being put at greater risk of mental health problems by changes in social pressures that have come about over the last 20 years.” --Sen. Lisa Seminara (R-Hartford)

Increased numbers of children dealing with depression, anxiety, and a myriad of other mental health conditions have driven Connecticut lawmakers to make children’s mental and emotional wellness a priority. Their hope it to continue the work legislators started last session, which saw the passage of three bills focused on children’s mental health.

Legislators and health professionals noted that disruptions to important childhood routines and formative social experiences during the pandemic worsened many mental health issues for children—issues that were already on the rise.

“You need not look far in 2023 to see a scholarly study that links the pandemic and its effects to children’s mental health,” said Sen. Eric Berthel, (R-32nd District) a ranking member on the Education Committee. “Schools were closed for a long time and it exacerbated existing mental health conditions, and perhaps created new complications.”

Seminara, however, believes there is a silver lining to be found here.

“If any positive comes out of the current crisis, it is a heightened awareness and amplified will to act,” she said. “Good, substantial legislation was passed in the last session. Nonetheless, more action is needed.”

In December 2022, a report from the Task Force to Study Comprehensive Needs of Children in the State highlighted specific recommendations for advancing mental health care in Connecticut.

Recommendations include addressing pay/reimbursement issues for pay-for-service in school settings; extending deadlines for service or treatment plans; taking steps to retain existing behavioral health professionals and expand the pool of qualified clinicians; addressing homelessness among adolescents; and enhancing the instructional and therapeutic capacity of all staff in schools through funding.

Like most of the country, the problem of too few providers to address the demand for care continues to persist in Connecticut.

“There isn’t a single piece of legislation that will fix the problem of provider scarcity,” said Seminara. “But this year, we can and should make progress.  We need to make the state conducive to attracting more talented workers to the state.”

The Education Committee emphasized that recruiting and retaining good teachers and paraeducators that are on the front lines of this mental health crisis is a top priority.

“These professionals spend countless hours educating, and in many cases, mentoring the young people in their classrooms,” said Berthel. “We must do what we can to make sure our kids have the right professionals in front of them each day.”

Senate Bill 2 is presently the signature children’s mental health legislation in the Children’s Committee. The bill is currently in the drafting stage and the Children’s Committee will hold a public hearing on the matter of children’s mental health once the bill is fully developed.

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