Senate unanimously approves mental health bill

Hartford — A bill that creates two children's mental health studies, a mental health public information campaign and a plan to better address children's mental health needs was passed 36-0 in the Senate on Thursday.

The bill had bipartisan support and comes in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is the result of work by the legislature's Mental Health Services Working Group.

The bill requires the future Office of Early Childhood with the Department of Children and Families to provide professional development training for pediatricians and child care providers to help prevent and identify mental, emotional and behavioral health issues in children.

Connecticut's birth-to-3 program will be required to provide mental health services to any child eligible for early intervention. The Office of Early Childhood will also be required to provide recommendations for how to coordinate home visitation programs.

The bill also establishes a Children's Mental Health Task Force to study the effects that nutrition, genetics and psychotropic drugs have on the health of children. Earlier this week, state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said she was involved in proposing the task force. Lead, cadmium and flame-retardants are examples of toxins that could affect a child's mental health, Urban said.

State Sen. Art Linares, R-Linares, R-Westbrook, who contributed to the legislation, said he applauded the passage.

"By improving access to mental health services and by engaging families in treatment, we can get children the help they need and prevent tragedies," Linares said.

The bill next goes to the House.

— Johanna Somers

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