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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Opinion: What California can do to improve children’s mental health

Opinion: What California Can Do To Improve Children'S Mental Health

The kids of California are struggling. The unprecedented levels of toxic stress and trauma triggered by the pandemic have exacerbated an already existing crisis in children’s mental health.

Even before the pandemic began, rates of teen suicide and suicide were on the rise. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the social isolation, emotional disconnection, economic stress and physical impact of COVID has taken a toll on our youth and exacerbated an already serious problem.

The Little Hoover Commission, California’s independent government watchdog, calls on the state to strengthen its system to support the mental and emotional well-being of children. The state should name an accountable leader, set clear goals, encourage coordination, and designate schools as key sites for helping children. This will ensure that the state uses funds devoted to the mental and emotional well-being of children efficiently and thus has the greatest impact, both short and long term.

COVID has had a distinctly piercing effect. This has been a major cause of stress and anxiety, while pandemic-related safety measures – including social distancing and distance learning – remove many children from their usual sources of support.

Chronic stress is affecting many children’s ability to control emotions and behaviors, pay attention, and initiate and complete tasks. Teachers are seeing this directly.

As many children returned to personal learning this fall, school districts reported rising rates of absenteeism and increased student abuse. Worse, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts in early 2021 were nearly 51% higher among teenage girls and 4% higher among teenage boys compared to the same time period in 2019.

Major national organizations declared a state of emergency in the mental health of children this fall. The US Surgeon General last month issued an advisory with recommendations to help children amid the mental health crisis.

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

Its system to support children’s mental health struggles with a number of systemic barriers—including decentralization and workforce shortages—that prevent children from accessing much-needed mental health services. In 2018, California was ranked 48th nationally for providing mental health services to children.

Furthermore, access to care is often most challenging for youth from minority and low-income communities, who have also borne the brunt of the pandemic’s effects.

The good news is that Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature have taken important steps to reform California’s system for supporting children’s mental health. Last year, he founded the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative—a $4.4 billion investment to develop a comprehensive system of mental health care for Californians from birth to age 25.

In our report, COVID-19 and the Mental Health of Children, the Commission called for additional reforms to ensure that behavioral health initiatives achieve their potential:

First, establish a point of holistic leadership for the mental health of children. This statewide leader should be tasked with creating clear plans for coordinating and implementing children’s and youth behavioral health initiatives.

Second, set clear outcome goals. The state should set targets for the mental health of children based on key indicators related to overall mental well-being, access to care and quality of care.

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

Finally, focus on schools as sites to support children’s mental health. The state should encourage schools to develop comprehensive plans to coordinate student mental health services, access and share data, and integrate new and existing funding to create sustainable mental wellness programs.

World Nation News Desk
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