Voices for Virginia’s Children’s Public Comment to the Behavioral Health Commission
November 14, 2022
Good afternoon Chairman Deeds and members of the commission. My name is Emily Moore, and I am the policy analyst at Voices for Virginia’s Children. I’m here today to bring attention to the needs of children and youth accessing our mental health system.
As you have heard before, children’s mental health needs were increasing in Virginia prior to the pandemic as identified by the Virginia Department of Health. In the past year, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Surgeon General have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health.
And a new report from Mental Health America should be a sharp wakeup call that children’s mental health is an emergency in Virginia.
The 2023 State of Mental Health in America report should make us pause and re-evaluate our response to Virginia’s youth mental health crisis. According to the new report, the Commonwealth ranks 48th in the nation for youth mental health. Based on the report, the indicators that impacted Virginia’s ranking most are higher rates of depression, and severe depression, among youth in Virginia than in other states, and youth in Virginia were more likely to have private insurance that did not cover mental health services in 2019-2020.
Furthermore, the recent study by JLARC noted that the pandemic’s impact on education highlighted that more than a third of middle and high school students in Virginia indicated feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks or more.
The current response to Virginia’s youth mental health crisis is inadequate. Resources dedicated to children’s behavioral health equal less than 10% of the DBHDS budget. The only funding specifically for children’s crisis services is $8.4 million, which has not had an increase in investment since 2016. While this funding has been useful to implement mobile crisis response and crisis stabilization services in some localities, it is inadequate to meet increasing needs. And those who are most in need of crisis mental health services are not able to access them without barriers. The crisis response service system in its current state does not sufficiently meet the needs of children and youth, who are not “little adults” and need services and systems designed with their developmental needs in mind.
As we build out new systems and services in the mental health crisis response system in Virginia, children and youth must be a priority in the planning and implementation. Often services dedicated to children are considered “Part 2” of any new implementation plan, but our young people need resources right now.
To address this need, during the 2023 session, Voices will propose additional funding to CSBs so that robust crisis services can be implemented with a specific focus on providing mental health support to children when and where they need it. We urge you and your colleagues in the General Assembly to unite and prioritize the mental health needs of children now, rather than focus on them as part of phase two, and before we fall even further behind other states or declare another state of emergency.