Written by Alli Daley, PCMH Policy Director.

Over the past couple months, state lawmakers moved forward two major efforts to help get Colorado kids the mental health services and support they need. These actions come at a critical time, as we continue to hear from partners, communities, and clinics that mental health concerns among children and youth are rising as a result of the pandemic.

Creating a new behavioral health administration

The first effort is legislation to create a new behavioral health administration (BHA). The BHA will serve as a single state agency to lead, promote and administer Colorado’s behavioral health priorities, streamlining access to services for Coloradans and reducing bureaucracy for providers.

On April 22, Governor Jared Polis signed this bill (HB 21-1097) into law, marking a major step forward in the efforts to create a better children’s mental health system in Colorado. 

The BHA would address many challenges in the current behavioral health system by: 

  • Receiving, coordinating, and distributing funds for community behavioral health programs
  • Overseeing the quality of services and setting standards of care
  • Monitoring and evaluating behavioral health outcomes across the state 
  • Provide the infrastructure for the state to implement the remaining blueprint recommendations from the Governor’s Behavioral Health Task Force

The legislation also explicitly recognizes that children and youth are unique and have needs that differ from adults. Children and youth are often multi-system involved, and it is essential to support the entire family’s wellness. Because of this, the BHA will include a children-specific structure to ensure that the children, youth, and families receive the support they need. 

There are several ways to stay informed or get involved in the process of designing an effective BHA. You can review available activities here.  

Restoring funding for Senate Bill 19-195

In March, lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee voted unanimously to include SB19-195 funding in the budget for SFY2020-21 to restart implementation of this important bill. The budget will be finalized in the next few days. 

Senate Bill 19-195 was a bipartisan bill that moved forward a set of programs to better identify child and youth behavioral health needs early in life and tackle the challenges associated with a fragmented behavioral health care system. In 2020, due to COVID-19 budget impacts, the state was forced to eliminate funding from the bill’s implementation.

With restored funding, implementation across three state departments can begin. The budget includes funding for:

  • Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) to train primary care providers on a set of developmentally appropriate and culturally competent behavioral health screening tools for children and youth. 
  • Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing (HCPF)to develop a pilot program that integrates funding for behavioral health intervention and treatment services to allow for easier system navigation, reduced duplication of services, increased alignment and efficiencies for providers, and improved data collection. 
  • HCPF will also begin work to design a Medicaid benefit for high-fidelity wraparound (HFW) services for eligible children and youth. HFW is an evidence-based practice within the System of Care framework that improves outcomes for children, youth and families by developing and implementing with a team a family-driven and youth/child-guided team individualized treatment plan.
    • There is also funding for the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to support HCPF in their work. 

Looking ahead

These accomplishments mark a significant step forward in improving the youth mental health system in Colorado, but our work isn’t done. We’re continuing to push for legislation that will increase access to and quality of mental health services for all children, youth and families across the state. You can track our progress and view the current status of relevant bills on our 2021 Bills to Know page.

If you’d like to get involved in PCMH’s policy and advocacy efforts, or have related questions, you can reach Alli at allison.daley@childrenscolorado.org

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