Voices’ Blog

2021 Legislative Session: Children’s Mental Health

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

The pandemic has greatly impacted children’s mental health and well-being and there will not be easy policy solutions. However, we are pleased to see the following measures moving forward during the 2021 General Assembly Session.

Children’s Mental Health Bills:

Maximize Medicaid Funding to Support Health and Mental Health Services in Schools | SB1307Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

This bill would direct the Department of Medicaid Assistance Services (DMAS) to create a state plan amendment to our Medicaid plan allowing schools to pull down Medicaid reimbursement for health and mental health services even when a student does not have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This option, known as the “free care rule”, would bring more financial resources into local school divisions to support health and mental health services.

Access to services is a critical barrier to children receiving support, therefore, bringing more funding for services into schools helps to meet children where they are. Funds can be used flexibly for school support staff, contracts with private providers, and other expanded partnerships. This option has also been identified as a key step to expand school-based health centers.

Bill status: SB1307 has passed the Senate 39-0 and passed the House 99-0. The bill is now on it’s way to the Governor to sign into law!

Creating a Crisis Call Center & Hotline | SB1302 | Senator Jeremy McPike

A key factor in creating the MARCUS Alert system to deescalate law enforcement responses to situations involving a mental health crisis is also to create systems that enable easy and effective notification and response to mental health crisis. A missing element of that system has been a hotline or crisis call center for professionals to use when encountering a child, youth or adult in mental health crisis.

Senator Jeremy McPike’s SB1302 builds on legislation passed during the 2020 Special Session to create a more uniform crisis response system by creating a call center. The call center would link to the national suicide hotline for one uniform response in Virginia. The bill adds a surcharge to cell phone bills of a few cents to help fund the call center.

Bill status: SB1302 has passed the Senate 30-7 and has been referred to House. It has passed the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee 22-0 and will be heard by the Appropriations Committee.

Children’s Mental Health Budget Amendments:

Steps to Implement Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation | Item 137#1h | Sickles

This budget language bills off the resolution passed last year to study a process and the steps necessary to build a statewide early childhood mental health consultation program. The report from Department of Education and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services outlines next steps for training professionals and building out a statewide infrastructure. With additional resources to support the early childhood sector and school systems in response to COVID this language asks the state to move forward with steps outlined in the study.

Update: The House Appropriations Committee has included this language in the budget.

Restore Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program (VDH) | Item 295 #1s &4s & 295 #1h | Senators Barker & Deeds and Delegate Carr

Three budget items restore funding the the Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program that were unallocated after the 2020 budget. This loan repayment program can incentivize professionals to work in the mental health field, an incentive needed to ensure the workforce is diverse and reflective of the population served and to address the service shortages across the state.

Update: The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee has included $1.9 million in the budget.

Read More Blog Posts