State lawmakers prepare proposals to improve children’s mental health care – Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon lawmakers are working on bills ahead of the 2023 legislative session to help tens of thousands of children suffering from mental health issues.

State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, who chairs the Senate mental health committee, told the Capital Chronicle she is working on legislation to improve access to mental health services by strengthening the Student Success Act. The 2019 bill invests $2 billion in public schools every two years, and a portion of that money is dedicated to funding school mental health services.

But most students shifted to online learning during the first year of the pandemic, which severely hampered the spread of these new services.

Gelser Blouin said she wants to pass laws that help the Oregon Department of Education manage those dollars effectively to prevent mental health crises and provide greater access for vulnerable children.

“We’ve certainly had a significant struggle with getting services to children who are in crisis, or have very significant complex behavioral health needs,” Gelser Bouin said. “Part of the issue is that it’s very difficult for children to get the support they need earlier before something becomes a crisis. There are a whole series of reasons for this, from provider network adequacy to commercial insurance reimbursements.”

Gelser Blouin said she is focused on proposals that would stop youth suicides and combat bullying and racism. She also wants children to receive hospital care that lasts longer than 14 days, which is a typical limit set by private insurers. Gelser Blouin said kids also need better access to mental health care outside of school so they don’t end up in emergency rooms, which aren’t well-equipped to handle mental health issues. A proposal that could become law in 2023 would give children greater access to hospital treatment and therapy by supplementing their insurance to prevent carriers from denying care.

The push to improve access to mental health care coincides with the release of a study released last week showing that children in Oregon are experiencing depression and anxiety at a higher rate than the national average.

“Young people in Oregon and across the nation are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels,” Our Children Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit that released its analysis of Oregon’s children, said in a statement.

Number of children 2022” was commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a philanthropy in Baltimore, Maryland involved in supporting initiatives to help children. The study looked at four areas – well-being, education, health and family and community – to determine how children were faring in each state. The report is based on data from US Census Bureau surveys.

The report ranked Oregon, which has 860,000 children, 26th overall among the 50 states. It shows the state made progress between 2016 and 2020: Fewer children lived in poverty and with parents who did not have secure employment, and more high school students graduated on time.

“Pre-pandemic, many important new policies in Oregon, given our policy, have led to improvements in various social outcomes and services in a way that other states are not implementing and investing in the same way,” said Jyoni Tetsurō Shuler. , research manager at Our Children in Oregon.

But in many areas, children fared worse in 2020. Teenage deaths rose and a greater proportion were obese. Oregon also ranks poorly in educational achievement at 41 out of 50. In 2019 — the last year for which educational data was used in the study — two-thirds of Oregon’s third-graders were not proficient in reading, and 70% of eighth graders were not proficient in math. These numbers were even higher among racial and ethnic minorities: 83% of Hispanic third graders were not proficient in reading and nearly 90% of American eighth graders were not proficient in math.

The number of Oregon children struggling with anxiety and depression also increased — from 11% in 2016 to 16% in 2020, a 40% increase from 83,000 to 117,000 children.

Nationally, nearly 12% of children—roughly 1.5 million—experienced anxiety and depression in 2020, up from 9.4% in 2016. The study attributes this increase in part to educational disruption in the first year of the pandemic.

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Shuler said the study shows that many children suffering from anxiety and depression do not have access to counseling services. But economic factors such as lack of food and stable housing also cause mental health stress, Shuler said. The study ranked Oregon 30 out of 50 in the economic well-being of its children. Black Oregonians and rural communities suffer the worst, Shuler said.

“In rural parts of our state and where there is a large concentration of BIPOC youth, there are significant disparities that are systemic,” Shuler said, referring to residents of color, Indigenous people and people of color. “We’re talking about a lack of investment and systems that have been in place long enough now that we’re still seeing you in certain areas not thriving and not being able to use the right resources.”

Nearly a third of children in Douglas, Yamhill, Crook and Jackson counties reported not having access to counseling. In Coos, Grant and Lincoln counties, nearly a quarter of children do not have enough nutritious food.

In Wheeler, Malheur, Harney, Coos and Curry counties, between a fifth and a quarter of all children live in households below the federal poverty line — $13,590 annual income for a single person or $27,750 for a family of four .

The report showed that half of families with children in Oregon face high housing costs, which account for a third of their income.

And while 3.6% of families with children nationwide reported unstable housing situations, that percentage doubled for black and Native American families in 2020.

“Housing is one data point that reflects how these issues are multifaceted,” Shuler said. “There are many aspects involved in the larger economic systems at play,” including exorbitant housing costs, displacement due to natural disasters such as wildfires and food insecurity.

Schuler said the Oregon Legislature’s focus on increasing spending on mental health care and substance abuse gives her hope that conditions will continue to improve for the state’s children.

Gelser Blouin said one area in which the state needs major improvements is providing care consistently, not just at a point in time.

“We’ve never put systems in place to support people after they go through the crisis,” she said. “We can build beds forever, but until we invest in community services and recognize that people experiencing mental illness need a lifetime of support and wrap-around services to continue to thrive, we’re just going to keep getting stuck in a crisis .”

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