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Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act

March 19, 2021

WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boozman (Ark.), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), along with U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (Mich.), introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve access to mental health services for children in the foster care system. Their Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act would 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. Yearly screenings are also required.

“Children in foster care are much more likely to struggle with issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD,” said Blunt. “This bill recognizes the unique health challenges foster kids face and helps ensure they get the mental and behavioral health care they need. With data showing an alarming decline in outpatient mental health services for children across the country, this is a critical time to ensure that foster children do not fall through the cracks. The bipartisan, bicameral support for this bill demonstrates a shared commitment to making sure foster children have the support they need to live happy, healthy, successful lives. I hope all of our colleagues will join us in this effort.”

“Children in foster care deserve our commitment to ensure their mental and behavioral health needs are being met in a thorough and consistent way. These young people are likely to have experienced trauma or mental health struggles that can affect their well-being in the near and long term, so it is critical to provide a clear framework that puts their interests first and prioritizes helping them identify and overcome these challenges. I’m proud to join my colleagues to address this issue and serve the needs of vulnerable children through access to safe and supportive care,” 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 help address the mental health needs of children in foster care and establish supports that will set them on a path of success,” said Casey. “This bipartisan legislation is a step towards giving all children a fair opportunity in life.”

“I am committed to making sure children in foster care are provided the services they need, including behavioral health care. This bipartisan bill will expand mental health services for these children so they are given the support they need to succeed as they grow into adulthood,” said Stabenow, co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.

“Foster youth are five times more likely to suffer from trauma and PTSD, but many do not have access to the mental health care or support network they need. Now more than ever, Congress must step up as this pandemic has increased the challenges that children in foster care face,” said Lawrence. “I have extended family members who have experienced the foster care system, so this issue is very important and personal to me. I’m proud to work across the aisle and across the Capitol with Senator Blunt to introduce this much-needed mental health legislation and support our foster youth.”

“Children who are entering the foster care system may have experienced a number of traumatic and adverse childhood experiences,” said Gwen O’Brien, Director of Advocacy and Prevention, Synergy Services. “However, not all children who experience trauma require mental health treatment. Timely mental health screenings and assessments will serve as a method of triaging and identifying children who are in need of mental health treatment and initiate the healing process. Synergy Services continues to be grateful to Sens. Blunt, Boozman, Casey, and Stabenow and Rep. Lawrence who advocate for the health and wellbeing of foster children and youth.”

According to a 2015 Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General report, children in foster care experience a high rate of chronic medical, developmental, and mental health issues. Current law requires state child welfare agencies to meet certain health care needs of children and youth in foster care, including creation of a health care plan. This plan must include a schedule for screenings and assessments. Notably, the law does not specify required timeframes for performance of these services.

Timeframes vary, though about a fifth of states already require 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.

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