Kids with untreated mental health problems often can’t manage day-to-day life. An estimated seven percent of California’s kids, around 690,000 children, struggle with severe mental health problems that interfere with daily activities and require treatment, proper care and support. If they go without the treatment they need, children are more likely to be hospitalized drop out of high school, become involved with the juvenile justice system, or commit suicide. In fact, suicide accounts for 0.5 per 100,000 deaths for children ages five to 14 and jumps to more than five per 100,000 for children ages 15-19.
Quality mental health services are clearly crucial, yet only 31% of California adolescents and 40% of children under the age of six with emotional, developmental or behavioral problems get the support they need. Health insurance covers some mental health services, but access problems persist. Even when kids are able to access services, it often takes a long time before they actually get the care they need. This is problematic because delays in getting care can make mental health concerns more serious and harder to treat.
Providing mental health services at school increases kids’ access to care and improves school performance. One study found that after a school-based health center began providing mental health services, there was a 13% increase in the number of kids advancing to the next grade. Many students seeking care from school-based health centers also reported being victimized or bullied in school, suggesting centers could be used to address kids’ overall social and emotional needs.
Pro-Kid® Policy Agenda
In order to give all children the care they need to thrive, California should increase access to mental health care in health care settings, and expand the reach of school-based mental health services.
California’s kids deserve the kind of services and care that lead to good mental health. But too many children aren’t able to access critical and timely mental health services. Efforts to improve children’s mental health were undermined when California stopped funding the Early Mental Health Initiative, a highly successful school-based mental health prevention and intervention program. Legislative proposals to restore funding for the Early Mental Health Initiative and create new school-based mental health programs have not yet passed, but a new budget allocation may help some young school children access mental health care. Additionally, due to a new law, kids who have autism disorder and are covered by Medi-Cal now have the opportunity to receive behavioral therapy, which will help improve educational outcomes and increase their overall well-being.