Child mental health gets attention in state Legislature

By Azeb Tuji

WNPA News Service

In the wake of the pandemic, Seattle Children’s Hospital reports an increasing number of children need outpatient mental health treatment, but not enough providers exist to meet the demand.

“The devastating consequence of the inability to access outpatient care is that you’re likely to get worse and need emergency department or crisis level care,” said Kashi Arora, from Seattle Children’s Hospital.

House Bill 1800, now under consideration in the state Legislature, creates a behavioral workgroup to identify barriers to behavioral health services for families. It also helps develop a behavioral health plan for children and their caregivers.

“We need to make sure we’re not perpetuating a behavioral health system that cycles around crisis, that cycles around intensive care, but also is very focused on prevention, early education …and making sure we’re serving everyone that needs care when and where they need it,” said Rep. Lisa Callan, D-Issaquah, prime sponsor for the proposals.

Callan said the committee started working on the bill after seeing a steep curve in behavioral health needs.

The bill requires the Health Care Authority (HCA) to dedicate at least one full-time employee who is focused on connecting families, behavioral health providers, educators, and other stakeholders with current information about behavioral health services for minors. The HCA requested $584,000, to cover expenditures for 2023-25 biennium.

“We urgently need a system of care for children and families, an intentional and cohesive system that knits together support for families from the start, that provides quick access to mental health care, that sets goals, measures outcomes and is a community-based team approach,” said Dr. Mary Ann Woodruff of the Washington Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics.