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Today in Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24, and an estimated one out of six teens has a diagnosable mental health condition. Prevention, early identification, early intervention and treatment of these conditions are needed now more than ever. Our mental health system is facing considerable challenges, but together we have the power to improve it for children and youth.
Children's Hospital Colorado is committed to working with partners across the state on solutions that address crucial challenges facing kids. We look forward to working with Colorado's governor-elect and legislature to advance and implement the following policy recommendations over the coming years to address children and youth mental health challenges in our state:
A recent national report ranks Colorado forty-eighth in the country for children's mental health when looking at prevalence of mental health conditions and access to care. In Colorado, responsibility and authority for children's mental health care is dispersed among multiple state agencies and local governments. This lack of coordination, accountability and flexibility may lead children to miss early intervention services, receive duplicated support and need more costly treatments in the long run.
Recommendation 1: Colorado can resolve its fragmented children's mental health system and reduce long-term costs by ensuring that there is immediate access to appropriate and flexible funding when children and families' needs are first identified.
Recommendation 2: Colorado needs a fundamental and unified authority for children's mental health to ensure appropriate accountability, management and funding of the system, improving the state's ability to immediately address the mental health needs of all children.
In 2014, a confidential, statewide mental health crisis system was established to support anyone experiencing an immediate need to talk with a trained crisis counselor. While well-intentioned, this program has room to improve by better serving high-risk populations, particularly children and youth.
Recommendation 3: Colorado can strengthen the existing mental health crisis system to more effectively address the needs of children, youth and families. Colorado needs a robust mobile crisis response system for children that can respond to schools, homes or other settings within ninety minutes. Responding mental health professionals should then be able to complete an evaluation, develop a safety plan and provide necessary services to reduce inappropriate and expensive emergency department use.
Regardless of a child's age or the zip code they live in, every child in Colorado deserves access to quality mental health services.
Recommendation 4: Children can enjoy better long-term health outcomes when universal screening and standardized assessments are implemented to identify potential mental health concerns. Early identification and intervention is critical for connecting children and families to mental health services and supports promptly.
Recommendation 5: To improve the quality and standardization of care for children of all ages and for families across the state, Colorado should require and provide support for mental health providers using evidence-based practices to ensure appropriate workforce recruitment, development, training and coaching.