Senate Takes Preventative Action to Protect Children's Mental Health

Sen. Haskell supports legislation implementing and strengthening programs intended to prevent children's mental health issues


Today, the Connecticut State Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 2, an overarching piece of legislation designed to benefit children's mental health amid a growing children's mental health crisis both local and national. State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport), joined an overwhelming amount of support for the bill, which passed by a 33-1 vote.

One of Senate Democrats' lead priorities this legislative session, this bill takes significant steps forward in supporting, expanding and creating preventative programs to reduce conditions conducive to children developing mental health disorders. With more children experiencing mental health disorders, this legislation seeks to target root causes of mental health issues, supporting children in their early development and formative years to better prepare them for success in their lives.

"This bill sends a signal to kids in Connecticut, and their parents, that we see them. We hear them. We know that they've been struggling, and the pandemic has only made matters worse," said Sen. Haskell. "By deploying mobile crisis centers across the state, by placing social workers in pediatric care settings, by ensuring a continuity of care for those seeking telehealth across state lines, we're taking a huge step forward. We're affirming that mental healthcare is healthcare, and I want to thank Sen. Anwar for championing this remarkable effort."

This legislation's preventative programs dovetail with House Bill 5001, which is designed to address current issues impacting children's mental health and access to mental health services. The two bills coexist in, respectively, addressing current issues and addressing those issues' root causes.

Senate Bill 2, "An Act Expanding Preschool and Mental and Behavioral Services For Children," would make numerous changes to current state policies and programs. Among the most important:

  • Mobile crisis centers will be available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week everywhere in the state.
  • The legislation will create an equity-based mental health fund aiding members of the public disconnected from mental health services; this effort matches one in House Bill 5001 supporting the public from a non-equity-based perspective.
  • In the event federal authorities do not take action, steps will be taken to enshrine telehealth services including allowances for professionals residing out of state.
  • Children in care of the Department of Children and Families receiving Social Security and Disability Insurance payments will retain access to the money, which previously was recouped by the state for the cost of their care.
  • The bill creates a mental health plan for student-athletes; studies show these students are increasingly likely to suffer mental health issues.
  • A study on the effects of social media and mobile phone use on children will provide legislators with information on those platforms' effects on children's mental health.
  • Family child care centers, as long as there is an assistant present, will be able to care for nine children per center in all seasons, expanding a rule currently in place during summer.
  • A Department of Public Health grant program will allow pediatrician offices to hire social workers with the grant funding half of the social workers' salary.
  • Parents of children who fall ill or are injured under the care of a child care center will receive a written report and the Office of Early Childhood will be able to access video footage of the incident, if available, from the center.
  • New safe storage guidelines will be adopted for prescription drugs and cannabis to prevent undue access to these substances.
  • Psychologists will receive Medicaid payments for services provided by social workers and family therapists if the professionals are supervised by psychologists.
  • Speech language pathologists and occupational therapists in other states will be allowed to access licenses in Connecticut if they work with Birth to Three, expanding care availability.
  • The Department of Public Health will manage a program recruiting and retaining healthcare workers, specifically behavioral health experts and professionals; a working group will further examine enhancing physician recruitment in the state.
  • The state will join PSYPACT, which allows psychology services to take place across state boundaries.
  • Youth Service Bureaus will receive an additional $2 million in funding.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as one in six children in the United States experienced mental health disorders. That rate has only increased in recent years; in 2021, the Connecticut Mirror reported that as many as 47 children per day experiencing mental health crises waited in the emergency department of Connecticut Children's Hospital, which experts said was a significant escalation from prior years; at Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, the rate of children experiencing mental health crises more than doubled from March to May 2021, and the rate of hours of care provided to children experiencing mental health crises more than doubled as the pandemic progressed.

Mental Health America found that it is possible to prevent or mitigate the effects of mental illness with early intervention, with the time between prenatal development and early childhood being crucial for brain development. Investing in prevention, early intervention and providing access to appropriate services have direct ties to reducing the impact and severity of mental health issues in the population, it said. Doing so also reduces the propensity of mental health issues to arise and associated societal problems, including suicides, school dropouts, homelessness and increased populations in the juvenile justice system.

In other words, the crisis we see today is partially the result of inefficient investment in necessary resources yesterday – and by acting now, we can preserve a better tomorrow for the children of Connecticut.

The bill previously passed the Children's Committee by a vote of 11-2 and the Appropriations Committee by a 48-0 unanimous tally. The bill now moves to the House.