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Yesterday at the Colorado State Capitol, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 18-1094, the Children and Youth Mental Health Treatment Act, into law. This bill will strengthen the youth mental health system in our state for children with serious mental health needs by nearly doubling the program’s resources to almost $3 million annually for an existing and successful program managed by the Colorado Department of Human Services.
The Children and Youth Mental Health Treatment Act will enable more families to stay together and facilitate access to treatment for children experiencing chronic and severe mental health conditions. Children’s Hospital Colorado led the effort to pass the bill in partnership with Mental Health Colorado and many other stakeholders.
Colorado ranked 48th in the U.S. for overall youth mental health, according to the 2018 “The State of Mental Health in America” report. This is simply not acceptable. This same report estimates that more than 13% of Colorado teens have had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Coloradans aged 10-24, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. These statistics underscore the need for this and future action on behalf of pediatric mental health in Colorado.
In response to the signing of House Bill 1094, Children’s Hospital Colorado President and CEO Jena Hausmann issued the following statement: “Colorado lawmakers understand the dire situation that our youth and children are facing and the tragic gap in the mental health system in our state. We applaud the Hickenlooper administration and lawmakers reauthorizing and expanding this program, which represents one small but critical step toward transforming a mental health system that is inadequate for Colorado families and children in crisis. For years, parents have had to choose between securing needed services for a child with critical mental health needs and keeping their family together. This is an impossible choice that we don’t impose on parents for any other vital medical treatment. We see the Children and Youth Mental Health Treatment Act as the first of many partnerships with the legislature to improve access to quality youth mental health services in our state.”
Families with private health insurance usually find their policies cover only limited residential and community-based mental health treatment services for children. Colorado families whose children are experiencing a mental health crisis sometimes, therefore, consider giving up parental rights to child welfare in order to get access to mental health treatment for their child, even though no child abuse or neglect has taken place. In the last several years, about 100 children and adolescents were served by the program annually, and 87% of the children who received services under the law did not subsequently end up in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.
Due to limited funding and increased demand, a wait list was set up in 2017 for the program. The additional funding provided by House Bill 1094 will expand access for more families to receive services. The bill was sponsored by bipartisan champions for youth mental health, Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) and Rep. Cole Wist (R-Centennial); and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R-Thornton) and Sen. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City).
Learn more about Children’s Colorado’s commitment to improving pediatric mental health.