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Mental Health

Virginia trails the nation in mental health access for children.

Mental health issues are common in children of all ages; with 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness beginning by age 14. In Virginia, children’s mental health disorders are prevalent, with one in five children experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders. While mental health conditions affect many children in Virginia, access and treatment options remain limited.

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Voices and our partners are working to bring attention to these issues and to the need for transformation of our children’s behavioral health system in Virginia. We are advocating for increased access and improved coordination of quality mental health services for all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live or what system identifies their needs.

 What do we do?

  • Recruit and mobilize parents as partners, advocates, and leaders
  • Cultivate key legislators and officials within the Governor’s Office and executive branch to champion this cause
  • Persuade state and local mental health officials to advocate for needed mental health reforms
  • Mobilize grassroots advocates to support children’s mental health policy priorities
  • Educate the public about the importance of reforming the children’s mental health system

2021 Mental Health Policy Agenda

Read our full 2021 Mental Health Policy Agenda.

How many children have mental health needs?

The Surgeon General and SAMHSA report that as many as one in five kids has a mental health need. And of those, only one in five gets the treatment he or she needs.

In May 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States 2005-2011. Among the report’s findings:

  • A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year (6, 8–10).
  • Suicide, which can result from the interaction of mental disorders and other factors, was the second leading cause of death among children aged 12-17 years in 2010 (11).
  • In the United States, the cost (including health care, use of services such as special education and juvenile justice, and decreased productivity) of mental disorders among persons aged <24 years in the United States was estimated at $247 billion annually (6, 12, 13).
  • Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) estimates that between 117,592 and 143,724 Virginia children and adolescents have a serious emotional disturbance.

Why aren’t children getting the help they need?

  • Lack of mental health providers trained and available to help children of all ages
  • Limitation of insurance—both public and private
  • Fragmented, uncoordinated system
  • Regional variation in what’s available
  • Stigma of mental illness can make families and youth reluctant to seek help

In recent years, we’ve accomplished the following:

  • Collaborated with partners to improve integration of children’s mental health services in primary care by establishing a pediatric mental health access program in Virginia. In 2019, $1.23 Million per year to build out state-wide capacity for the Virginia Mental Health Access program (VMAP).
  • Led efforts to secure $7 million in 2018 to establish  a statewide alternative transportation model for children and adults under a Temporary Detention Order (TDO) and in need of transportation to an inpatient psychiatric hospital.
  • Secured millions of dollars in new state funding for child psychiatry and crisis response services in communities across Virginia. In state fiscal year 2017, the total allocated is $8.4 million; six years ago there were no funds for these services in the state budget.
  • Advocated to keep the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA) open when proposed for closure. CCCA is the only state-run inpatient psychiatric hospital for children in Virginia and, as such, serves as the safety net for kids.
  • Fended off proposed cuts to the Comprehensive Services Act funding for kids. Now known as the Children’s Services Act, CSA is a major source of funding for mental health services for children with complex needs.
  • Cultivated champions in the Virginia General Assembly and mobilized thousands of citizens.


View our full Legislative Archive.

2020 Mental Health Unified Policy Agenda

Policy Briefings

Policy Implications for Virginia’s Early Childhood Mental Health Work, 2017: A brief on Virginia’s infant and early childhood mental health policy work in 2017.

2011 Report: Children’s Mental Health in Virginia: A status report of the children’s mental health system in Virginia, including data from community services boards, CSA, juvenile justice, and Medicaid.

Virginians Speak Out, May 2010: A summary of the findings and recommendations gathered by the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health after a series of regional forums around Virginia with service providers and families.

Mental health policy agendas and accomplishments:

General Assembly Session 2015

General Assembly Session 2014

General Assembly Session 2013

General Assembly Session 2012

General Assembly Session 2011

Other Opportunities

Voices and its advocacy leaders have been involved in the work of the following task forces, commissions, or committees:

Joint Subcommittee Studying Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century-SJ47

In 2014, Senate Joint Resolution 47 established a joint subcommittee to study the delivery of mental health services, including laws governing the provision of mental health services and the system of emergency, short-term, forensic, and long-term mental health services in the commonwealth. Chaired by Sen. Creigh Deeds, the subcommittee is divided into three workgroups: Continuum of Care, Crisis Intervention, and Special Populations. In 2015, the Special Populations workgroup focused on the delivery of children’s mental health services. All meetings are open to the public. Meeting agendas and materials can be found here.

Project AWARE

The “Now Is the Time” Project AWARE initiative aims to develop an integrated, cohesive, and comprehensive continuum of services to address mental health needs of children and youth. Over a period of five years, this project will:

  • Develop a multi-tiered model that integrates a comprehensive systems approach for addressing the mental health needs of school-aged (K-12) youth that can be piloted within the three selected school divisions.
  • Integrate a multi-tiered systems framework for the delivery of mental health services that will increase the efficiency of systems (policies, regulations, and procedures) at the state and local levels.
  • Expand the availability and delivery of Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) throughout the commonwealth to increase early identification and intervention in cases of mental health distress in Virginia’s youth.

Joint Commission on Health Care

Established in 1992, the Joint Commission on Health Care studies and makes recommendations on all areas of health care (including behavioral health care) provision, regulation, insurance, liability licensing, and delivery of services. In 2014 and 2015, the JCHC studied and made recommendations on the following behavioral health care topics related to children’s mental health:

All meetings are open to the public and held at the General Assembly Building. Meeting materials are posted as they become available.

Virginia Association of Community Services Board-Public Policy Committee & Children and Family Services Council

The VACSB represents the 40 CSB/BHAs at the state level for matters of public policy involving legislation, regulation, and funding for the Virginia public mental health system. The campaign works with VACSB to advocate for funding and public policy solutions that will improve our mental health system for children.