Children’s Mental Health

 What’s happening:

Efforts to support healthy development in children must include focused attention to children’s mental health and the prevention of adverse childhood events.

It is estimated that between 9.5% and 14.2% of children ages birth to 5 experience emotional or behavioral disturbance and research indicates that serious symptoms of mental health issues can begin to manifest in infancy and toddlerhood.

Mental health issues in children may be biologically-based, a reaction to an adverse childhood event, or the impact of postpartum depression.

Children with behavioral health conditions and those who are victims of abuse and neglect share a troubling set of expected life outcomes, including increased rates of suicide, serious chronic physical health conditions, substance use disorders, and early onset of sexual activity. Not surprisingly, these children also struggle to do well in school, both academically and socially.

MSPCC targets its children’s mental health public policy goals to support existing efforts that have proven effective, improving capacity for early identification and treatment, and reforming practices which inhibit school success.  MSPCC is a founding member and the  coordinating agency of the Children’s Mental Health Campaign, whose leadership includes Boston Children’s Hospital, Parent Professional Advocacy League (PPAL), Health Care for All (HCFA), Health Law Advocates, and Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH). Through this coalition of more than 165 organizations, we champion children’s mental health access and quality.


What we’re doing:


Establishing a Children’s Mental Health Ombudsman

It can be very hard for many children and their families to get mental health care they need. Establishing the position of ombudsman within the Office of Child Advocate is an important step toward ensuring that assistance is available to the families of all children who will need it. Learn more here. See the fact sheet here.

Requiring commercial plans to cover wraparound services

We are working to ensure that community and home-based behavioral health care services are available for children and adolescents who are covered by commercial insurance. Currently, these services are only available to children with MassHealth and their families, through the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI). We strongly believe that all children should have access to a range of services that allows them to stay at home, in their school, and in their communities. Learn more here.

Eliminating Ghost Networks

Families and individuals seeking care in Massachusetts are often unable to find accurate, reliable information about the provider network available through their insurance carrier. Insurers do not regularly update provider directories, so patients or their families who are seeking care cannot find a provider when they need one. By requiring increased transparency and regular updates of provider directories, we can help to ensure that families get connected to the care they need. Learn more here. See the fact sheet here.

Supporting healthy development among preschoolers

Being suspended or expelled early in life can have lasting impact on a child’s educational and life outcomes. To set children up for success, we are advocating for the Department of Early Education and Care to adopt regulations aimed at reducing the use of exclusionary discipline. Learn more here. See the fact sheet here.

An Act Relative to the Promotion of Mental Health Education

Research finds that approximately one in five children and adolescents experience the signs and symptoms of diagnosable mental health disorders each year. Even though there are treatments for behavioral and substance use disorders, only 20 percent of children who need services receive them. This bill would update the current physical education mandate to make mental health education a required subject in all Massachusetts schools for grades K-12. Learn more from CMHC here. See the fact sheet here.

An Act Relative to Mental Health Parity Implementation

Mental health parity is intended to require that insurance coverage for behavioral health care is offered on the same terms and conditions as physical health care. Despite past legislative efforts, there are still barriers to behavioral health care. This bill would help to create more equitable access to behavioral health care for children and families. Learn more from CMHC here. View the face sheet here.

Preventing adolescent substance use

Massachusetts legalized adult-use recreational marijuana in 2016. Research suggests that when marijuana is legalized, risk perception decreases and youth among youth increases. We are working to ensure that revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana goes to support evidence based and evidence informed adolescent substance use prevention and education programs and services. Learn more here.

Watch The Power of Prevention: Using SBIRT with Young People video to learn more about Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) and our work in substance use prevention here.

Improving funding for children’s mental health

We also work to ensure that an array of programs and services for children with behavioral health needs are adequately funded in the state budget. Learn more here.


Strengthening and Expanding the IECMH Workforce

It is critical that all children across the Commonwealth have equitable access to infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) supports and services. Together with the Massachusetts Association for Infant Mental Health (MassAIMH), MSPCC will bring to Massachusetts a nationally-established IECMH professional credentialing process to help strengthen and professionalize the IECMH workforce.

Expediting Access to Mental Health Services for DCF-Involved Children

Thousands of children involved with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) have experienced abuse or neglect, or experienced challenging family circumstances that can negatively impact their healthy development. MSPCC has partnered with DCF, the Massachusetts Association for Infant Mental Health, Massachusetts Head Start Association, the Home for Little Wanderers, and Massachusetts Alliance for Families to develop and pilot a system for prioritizing delivery of evidence-based, trauma-focused screening, assessment, and interventions to DCF-involved infants and toddlers. Learn more here.

 What you can do:

Sign up today for action alerts from the Children’s Mental Health Campaign!  Receive alerts on important legislation and we will send you the information you need to take action by writing or calling lawmakers on behalf of vulnerable children.

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