Officials Highlight Effort To Boost Mental Health Services For Kids

This article was published in CT News Junkie on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 by Hugh McQuaid.

At a Hartford-based community provider Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont and a handful of his agency commissioners highlighted the expected impact of more than $100 million in recently passed funding aimed at increasing behavioral health services for Connecticut children.

The governor appeared at The Village for Families and Children, a recipient of new state funding included in a trio of bills passed by the legislature this session in an effort to shore up the state’s mental health services for kids.

“There is a pandemic coming out of COVID related to mental health and stress,” Lamont told reporters. “You see that reflected in addiction, you see that reflected in some violence, you see that reflected in domestic abuse… There’s nothing more important than a shoulder to lean on, somebody to say ‘I love you,’ and giving people a little bit of hope.”

The legislature made kids’ mental health a priority this year, responding to reports of children in crisis and parents, met with long waiting lists for services, resorting to bringing their kids to emergency departments for treatment.

Across three bills, HB 5001, SB 1 and SB 2, the legislature approved hundreds of millions of dollars to fund services like school-based health centers, early childhood education slots, and recruitment and training efforts to increase the number of mental health providers in the state.

“We’re working to ensure there is immediate access available,” Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said Wednesday. “We’ve made it easier for hospitals to put in beds, we make it easier for your child to get into in-patient treatment by eliminating the need for pre-authorization… We’ve put more money into emergency mobile psych.”

Liza Huertas, a 36-year-old Hartford mother, said services at the Village helped both children and parents. She said staff had assisted her in navigating parenting through the pandemic, the loss of her own mother, and a recent diagnosis of breast cancer in quick succession.

“I’m just grateful and hearing about the bill you passed, you know, other people are going to be able to get the help that I did and I guess it all starts with you wanting to get the help,” Huertas said. “I guess that’s not a crutch, it’s an actual stepping stone to get better.”

Galo Rodriguez, CEO of The Village for Families and Children, said the pandemic exacerbated existing mental health issues, hitting everyone at once. The Village had been providing behavioral health services to about 200 children, 90% of them from Hartford. Over the last two years, the need increased and expanded. Now a larger percentage of young patients come from communities like Avon and Enfield, Rodriguez said.

“Society has become more and more aware about this issue,” he said. “When we see the news… that hospital emergency rooms are crowded — this legislation will help.”

Dr. Manisha Juthani, state public health commissioner, called the three bills a “remarkable investment” in the child mental health system. She said the funding would help her department expand behavioral health clinics at 36 school-based health centers across the state.

“I’m very hopeful for what we can do going forward because we actually have put money where we need it to try to ease many of the strains on our system that we feel every day,” Juthani said. “This is the kind of prevention you need to prevent kids from getting to the emergency department and overloading our in-patient system. Meet them where they are.”

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