– During National Foster Care Month, U.S.
Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boozman (Ark.), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Debbie
Stabenow (Mich.) today announced that they have introduced legislation to
improve access to mental health services for children in the foster care
system. Their bipartisan Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act
require states to provide an initial mental health screening to foster children
within 30 days of entry into care. If a mental health issue is identified in
the initial screening, states would be required to provide a comprehensive
health assessment within 60 days.
“Children in foster care are at increased risk for
mental or behavioral health issues, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, which
could affect them well into adulthood,” said Blunt. “As co-chair of the
Congressional Coalition on Adoption, one of my main focuses has been
recognizing the unique health challenges foster kids face and looking at ways
we can make sure they have access to the services they need. This legislation
will help ensure foster children receive a mental and behavioral health
screening quickly, and that any additional care they need follows soon after.”
“The trauma and challenges that children face
before entering the foster care system, and throughout their time in it, put
them at high risk of mental health struggles. Our bill will help identify their
unique needs, and provide care to the 400,000-plus children in foster care that
will improve their lives and mental wellbeing,” said Boozman.
“We must do everything we can to support young
people who are facing mental health challenges. The Timely Mental Health for
Foster Youth Act will provide a clear roadmap to swiftly assess and begin to
address the mental health needs of children in foster care so we can positively
change the trajectories of young lives. Establishing mental health supports
earlier in a child’s life will set them on a path to success,” said Casey.
“This bipartisan legislation is a step towards giving all children a fair opportunity
“I am committed to making sure children in foster
care have access to the services they need, including behavioral health
screenings. This new bill will expand our mental health services for foster
youth and improve their care as they grow into adulthood,” said Stabenow,
co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.
"Synergy Services is grateful to Senators
Blunt, Boozman, Casey, and Stabenow for their proactive efforts to create
better outcomes for children and youth in foster care,” said Gwen O'Brien,
Director of Advocacy and Prevention, Synergy Services. “Timely access to
mental health assessments and comprehensive treatment services are critical to
the health and well-being of this most vulnerable population. Children and
youth who enter into foster care systems across this county have been exposed
to a number of different adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can result
in a variety of negative health outcomes well into adulthood. Timely mental
health assessment and treatment can change the trajectory of a child's life and
lead them on a path towards healing and resilience."
According to a 2015 Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) Inspector General (OIG) report, children in foster care
experience a high rate of chronic medical, developmental, and mental health
issues. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of
2008 places specific requirements on state child welfare agencies to meet the
health care needs of children and youth in foster care, including creation of a
health care plan. This plan must be developed jointly with state Medicaid
agencies and provide for ongoing oversight and coordination of health care
services, including a schedule for screenings and assessments. Notably, the law
does not specify required timeframes for performance of these services.
38 states require a behavioral health screening for foster youth but timeframes
vary, with only 11 states requiring the screening to occur within 30 days. The
Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act would create a national standard to
ensure foster children have access to mental health screenings and follow-up
assessments so they can get the care they need more quickly.