Boston- The Massachusetts Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to improve the early identification of children with mental illnesses by reaching them in familiar settings, such as pediatrician offices, early education programs and schools.
“This is a very special day for the protection of our youngest patients,” said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield). “This legislation continues our efforts to safeguard children’s mental health services through streamlining the Commonwealth’s response to these diagnoses. Early detection, intervention and proper treatment will help keep children from falling through the cracks in our mental health system.”
The bill seeks to increase pediatric screenings for mental illness and require the Department of Early Education and Care to provide behavioral health consultations. The legislation would also promote consultation services in schools to help teachers and administrators better identify mental health issues.
The bill also restructures how the Commonwealth oversees, provides and coordinates services by:
- Designating the Department of Mental Health as the leading voice for children’s mental health;
- Creating a children’s behavioral health advisory council and a children’s behavioral research center; and
- Creating multi-agency teams and a hearing process to improve case management for children with complex needs.
The bill also grants the Division of Insurance the authority to regulate behavioral health manager companies and requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to implement new policies and procedures to ensure that children do not remain in hospitals past the necessary amount of time, and instead making sure that they are efficiently moved to appropriate residential facilities or community-based settings.
The Senate passed the bill in memory of 16-year-old Yolanda Torres, who struggled with mental illness and became an advocate for children’s mental health services. Torres’ adoptive mother, Mary Ann Tufts of Plymouth, is a leading advocate for this legislation.
This bill will now go to the House of Representatives.