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Press Release

Rep. Castor Introduces Bill to Increase Children’s Access to Mental Health Services in Schools

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Castor is acting to support students

Our children are in crisis. It’s not a new problem, but one that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help address the significant shortage of mental health workforce providers for our nation’s children, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) has introduced the Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act. This bill would establish a new grant initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services to hire and retain mental health and substance use disorder care providers in schools. The bill includes a 90 percent increase in federal Medicaid matching funds to pay for these services, allowing states to increase the rate of pay for these providers in a sustainable manner.

“The current state of child and adolescent mental health is a national emergency, and we need urgent action to expand capacity to deliver appropriate care to meet children’s mental and behavioral health needs,” said Rep. Castor. “Providing children with services where they are improves mental health outcomes and reduces substance-use disorders among youth. I have heard from students, parents, and providers across the Tampa Bay area that the significant shortage of mental health care providers is keeping our neighbors from getting the critical care they need. The ASSIST Act would help remove the cost barrier for providers to care for children in schools, with a sustainable funding mechanism to provide effective services to our nation’s youth. This is a commonsense step to keep our youngest neighbors safe, healthy and engaged in school and their community.”

"AFT’s educators and school staff have seen up close the mental health challenges facing students. Far too many children and adolescents are struggling with social isolation, depression or going through the trauma of having lost a loved one, be it to COVID, gun violence or other trauma. Now more than ever our kids need dedicated support, including the counselors, social workers and school psychologists they can often only access at school. I thank Rep. Castor for introducing the ASSIST Act, which will increase the number of mental health professionals in schools and urge its consideration and passage,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“As schools continue their efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 on their students, including related to their social and emotional well-being, increasing school-based mental health services—where shortages existed even before the pandemic—is critical. The American Psychological Association supports the ASSIST Act and applauds Representative Castor’s efforts to provide sustainable funding to ensure that more schools can hire and retain mental and behavioral health providers, both in response to COVID-19 and in the long term,” said American Psychological Association CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD.

“Our country is facing a children’s mental health crisis, but we have an opportunity to provide services needed to help kids while in our schools. The Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act would help kids by supporting the school mental health workforce through grants and increased federal funding in Medicaid. NAMI is grateful to Rep. Castor for prioritizing our kids and introducing this critical legislation in the House,” said Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"Youth in this country are experiencing a mental health crisis. It is more important than ever that they have access to mental health care and resources," said Mark Barden, co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. "Schools can serve as one of the best mechanisms to offer the support youth need during this time. This legislation will help allow schools to hire and retain mental health providers, ensuring more students have access to quality mental health care."

"It's vital that schools are equipped to address our nation's mental health crisis, as school is where young people spend most of their waking hours. This legislation will help ensure that all schools, regardless of size or zip code, will be able to hire mental health and substance use professionals so that they are readily accessible in moments of crisis," said Preston Mitchum (he/him), Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. " We also must ensure that these providers and services are LGBTQ-competent, as 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and we see even higher rates among youth who are trans and/or BIPOC."

"The country’s youth mental health crisis highlights the need for increased federal funding for substance use prevention, mental health, and resiliency programs in schools. The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color also underscores the importance of programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.  The ASSIST Act would help address these challenges by providing sustainable funding for school-based mental health and substance use disorder care providers. TFAH applauds this legislation as an important step in responding to the unique mental health issues and pandemic-related stressors affecting youth,” said President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health Dr. J. Nadine Gracia.           

Supporting Organizations include: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, American Association of Nurse Anesthesiologists, American Counseling Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Psychological Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Association for Addiction Professionals, Children’s Hospital Association, Community Catalyst, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Families USA, First Focus Campaign for Children, Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice, Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, Mental Health America, NAADAC, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Federation of Families, Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies, Sandy Hook Promise, School Social Work Association of America, SMART Recover, The Jed Foundation, the Kennedy Forum, The Trevor Project, Treatment Communities of America, and the Trust for America’s Health.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of suicide among those aged 10-24 increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2017, and the Surgeon General issued an advisory in December citing how depressive and anxiety symptoms have doubled for youth globally during the pandemic. We must be using every avenue to treat children where they are, particularly in schools. Approximately 3.7 million adolescents accessed mental health care through schools, primarily financed through Medicaid, prior to the pandemic. Yet despite being the largest insurer for children, Medicaid pays significantly lower for mental health services compared to commercial rates, making it difficult for providers to practice in schools.