The Colorado legislature aims to make free therapy more accessible to young people statewide by creating a program that allows children in grades 6 through 12 to receive mental health assessments in schools. increase.
If approved by the legislature, House Bill 1003 would allow public schools to participate in programs run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Parents can opt their children out of evaluations, but children over the age of 12 can also decide for themselves whether to participate.
D-Commerce City Rep. Daphna Michelson-Jennett, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said: “This is one way to do it. The brain is part of the body, and it’s like an eye exam, an ear exam, a scoliosis exam.”
The idea is an extension of the I Matter program, which was established in 2021 and provides up to six free therapy sessions to young people in Colorado. The program has served approximately 6,000 students to date. House Bill 1003 is aimed at connecting more children to these free treatment services, he said.
If a student is found to require medical attention during an evaluation, parents will be notified and provided with information about I Matter resources.
According to Michelson-Jennett, the assessment program aims to help children with difficult mental health situations before they reach a crisis. I see it as a way to strengthen.
“It starts with making sure that the children who need treatment can actually get it,” she said.
Lorelai Jackson, student services coordinator at Denver Public Schools, said in some schools teachers are ultimately addressing students’ mental health needs.
“It’s very difficult for teachers to support math, literacy, and even mental health when they’re not really trained,” she said.
Jackson, who is also a volunteer for Teach Plus Colorado, an organization that brings together teachers and policy makers, said he supports the bill because children need to meet their mental health needs before they can learn.
“If you’re dealing with trauma, you’re so internalizing what’s going on, and people are depressed, you can’t focus on math,” she said.
Nicole Pasillas, a sixth grade teacher at Brighton’s 27J school district, said all her students seemed to have mental health issues as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health needs. said.
“I think there’s always been a problem there, but the COVID situation with certain kids in certain areas has exacerbated that,” she said. I don’t have one, so I can only help them.”
Under the bill, participating schools will send parents a letter notifying them of the evaluation and allowing them to opt out their child if they wish. Students ages 12 and older may choose to be evaluated even if their parent has opted out.
These children must agree to notify the parent after evaluation if treatment is required. If the student does not agree to notify parents, they will be directed directly to I Matter resources.
If an assessment reveals that a student is in danger or is in danger of harming themselves or others, the school will be notified immediately.
The cost of House Bill 1003 has not yet been finalized, but Michaelson Jenet hopes it will be funded by federal funds and Medicaid.
“To the extent that you can invest in the front end and deal with the problem before it gets worse, it’s worth the investment, especially if it’s a human,” the bill’s lead sponsor.
The program is managed by CDPHE, but evaluation is done by a private contractor. According to the bill, CDPHE has several requirements it must follow when selecting providers, including that they must have experience managing similar statewide programs.
Schools interested in running the program must notify the department by May 1 of the year they wish to begin.
The bill is scheduled to be heard before the Public and Behavioral Health and Welfare Commission on January 25.