Children's Hospital Colorado

Children’s Hospital Colorado Thanks Governor and Lawmakers for Prioritizing Youth Mental Health

Children's Hospital Colorado | June 10, 2021

The Colorado General Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to Senate Bill 21-137 that adds $5 million to fund emergency short-term capacity-building for high-quality, specialized youth residential placements and therapeutic foster care. In late May, Children's Colorado declared a youth mental health state of emergency to highlight the need for funding like this.

Funds to be used to address short-term, acute mental health needs

Children’s Colorado and its partners believe this funding could be used to open beds in qualified residential treatment programs, psychiatric residential treatment facilities and therapeutic foster care within the next six months. These placements are typically short-term to address acute behavioral or mental health needs with the goal of ensuring children and youth are then moved home or into family-like community settings. They will align with Children’s Hospital Colorado’s, the Governor’s, and the General Assembly’s shared priority to ensure residential placements are high-quality, open for the highest-need children and youth, and aligned with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.

Additional funds will go toward long-term mental health needs

Earlier in the week, a legislative committee also adopted additional amendments, including one that increases the bill’s existing funding for crisis services from $2 million to $5 million. This funding could support bed capacity expansion and dedicated respite services for children and youth, and a pilot program for youth mobile crisis. This money also can be allocated to community-based crisis services that help families manage crises in their homes.

More work is needed to ensure Colorado's children have necessary mental health resources

“Children’s Hospital Colorado applauds the Governor and bill sponsors for making a powerful bill for youth mental health even stronger,” said Heidi Baskfield, Vice President of Population Health and Advocacy at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Governor Polis, Representatives Dafna Michaelson-Jenet and Chris Kennedy, and Senators Brittany Pettersen and Faith Winter and their staff have worked day and night over the last week to find the best solutions for Colorado’s kids. There is much more work to do in the years ahead, but we believe this bill will begin to address the state of emergency our kids are facing, and we are deeply grateful to the Governor and the bill sponsors for their leadership in moving it forward.”

“As a frontline provider, I see every day the toll the pandemic is taking on the mental health of our children and youth, and how our system needs major structural repairs in the years ahead,” said Beau Carubia, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Colorado and University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “The difficult reality is we need to start making progress on both fronts right away. This bill thoughtfully balances both. It provides immediate relief in big and diverse ways for kids who are struggling with emergency needs today, and it makes significant down payments on vital transformations that will improve our system for the long term.”

High levels of youth mental health need drove action

The Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Colorado is seeing twice as many patients reporting increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation and social disconnectedness relative to pre-pandemic figures. Behavioral health emergency department visits this year are up 72% over the same time period two years ago, and in April 2021 alone, there was a 90% increase over April 2019.

Bill includes support for existing resources

Among dozens of other system enhancements, SB21-137 includes:

  • $1.2 million for school-based health centers which provide physical and behavioral health care to children and young adults in schools;
  • $2 million to support children and youth with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders;
  • $3 million to the High-Risk Families cash fund to increase access for families to co-located childcare and trauma-informed treatment; and
  • $500,000 for the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation program which connects early childhood professionals, families, and young children with qualified early childhood and mental health professionals to provide support and guidance in areas such as behavior management, emotion regulation strategies, classroom management, and social-emotional development.

Bill includes funds to improve Colorado's youth mental health system

The bill also includes elements to improve the overall system of care. Importantly, as the next step to implement the Governor’s Blueprint for behavioral health, SB21-137 includes:

  • $26 million to begin creating a statewide care coordination infrastructure to connect all Coloradans with the right care at the right time in the right place;
  • $18 million to support workforce development through training and fiscal incentives;
  • Much more within the overall $100 million package that the measure contains.

Work will continue to address additional behavioral health needs

Legislation is expected in 2022 to allocate another $300 to $450 million on behavioral health, and lawmakers and stakeholders will work over the interim to continue planning how best to allocate resources toward implementation of the recommendations of the Governor’s Behavioral Health Task Force and address other behavioral health needs in Colorado. Children’s Colorado looks forward to working with policymakers to continue improving our system for the children, youth, and families who rely on it.