Child mental health

Receiving little attention in the hectic closing days of the General Assembly session was approval of a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the recognition of emotional and mental health issues in children and assuring appropriate individuals and agencies address them.

The bill was the second major piece of legislation to deal with mental health matters in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school killings, carried out by a suicidal young man who by all accounts had serious mental health problems. Earlier in the session the legislature passed several mental health measures aimed primarily at adults and older teens.

During testimony on the prior legislation, mental health experts noted the importance of early intervention to try to avoid problems that can grow more serious and difficult to deal with over time. For that reason we do welcome the approval of the "Act Concerning the Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Health of Youths."

As co-chair of the Committee on Children, Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, played a key role in winning unanimous approval in both the House and Senate.

Among the provisions is a requirement that Department of Children and Family Commissioner Joette Katz develop a comprehensive implementation plan for meeting the mental, emotional and behavioral needs of children. It orders several steps, including shared protocols and development of memorandums of understanding, to improve coordination and communication between schools, school-based health centers and mental health agencies. The aim is to identify issues early and refer children to appropriate counseling or treatment programs.

The act calls for better training of those who interact with children to help them recognize behavioral health issues and know appropriate steps to take. It calls for a public education campaign about children's behavioral health.

It requires an evaluation by a task force of how nutrition and the wide use of psychotropic drugs may affect mental health in children.

What concerns us is a lack of funding to support the initiatives. While we recognize the state's fiscal struggles, and applaud the intent to make use of volunteer help and private grants, we have to question how effective these efforts will be without financial backing. The DCF already faced major challenges before receiving this new assignment.

Who will pay for training? Are we looking at another unfunded mandate?

At the very least it is a good step, and if it can prove effective within existing financial constraints, all the better.

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