A historic Colorado legislative session for youth mental health
Written by Alli Daley, PCMH Policy Director.
On May 11, Colorado’s 73rd General Assembly concluded their second regular session and adjourned sine die. The stakes felt particularly high, as recent reports show that nearly half of high school students are feeling persistently sad or helpless and youth mental health concerns continue to skyrocket. Thankfully, as a result of incredible advocacy efforts across the state, this session resulted in many legislative victories for youth mental health.
Throughout the 120-day session, Colorado legislators introduced and passed an unprecedented number of bills addressing youth mental health and invested almost half a billion dollars in one-time funding to address the state’s mental health crisis.
Funding to address Colorado’s mental health crisis
Some of the most impactful legislation stemmed from the commitment by Governor Polis and the General Assembly to spend $450 million in one-time, federal COVID-relief funding to address Colorado’s mental health crisis. We successfully advocated for one-third of this funding to go directly to support the unique needs of Colorado’s children and youth because children and youth, aged 24 and under make up one-third of Colorado’s population. The over $150 million in investments for children and youth will expand services and supports across the care continuum. Key legislation to allocate this funding includes:
- HB1283 supports children, youth, and families by providing $6 million for respite services; $8 million to expand the capacity of residential treatment facilities and therapeutic and treatment foster care providers that support kids with higher acuity needs; $5 million for substance use residential treatment beds for children and youth; $2.5 million to supply in-home crisis services and supports for families; and $35 million to build a state-run facility to serve kids with neuro-psychiatric needs
- SB147 supports integrated mental health treatment for kids by providing $4.6 million to the CoPPCAP program, which provides consultation services to pediatric providers by licensed children and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, and specialized community resource navigators. The bill also includes $5 million to expand access to behavioral health professionals in schools and $1.5 million to support school-based health centers
- HB1281 provides $90 million in community grants, including $40 million specifically for children, youth, and families, to close gaps along the care continuum
- HB1369 provides $2 million for prevention and early intervention programs for families with children from prenatal to six years of age
- SB177 includes $12.2 million to create a statewide care coordination structure within the state’s new Behavioral Health Administration
- SB181 includes a historic investment of $72 million for Colorado’s behavioral health workforce
These one-time investments will build a strong foundation for ongoing reforms to Colorado’s mental health system.
Strengthening Colorado’s mental health system
We also advocated to strengthen the accountability, transparency, and coordination of Colorado’s mental health system. HB1287 establishes the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). The BHA will serve as the single state agency to lead, promote, and administer Colorado’s state-funded mental health programs. We secured dozens of amendments to ensure the BHA will include strong coordination of services for children and youth, including services provided through Medicaid.
The work to build the BHA is just beginning and the BHA will not be fully operational for years, so we also worked to strengthen Colorado’s existing system of care. Through HB1214, we fought to strengthen Colorado’s crisis system by ensuring that all crisis facilities provide services to all Coloradans, regardless of age or the presence of a disability. We also supported SB102 which strengthens transparency and accountability for services provided to children and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Laradon program and SB106 which addresses conflicts of interest in Colorado’s mental health and substance use system.
The work continues as we shift to focus on successful implementation of these new bills. Lawmakers built a strong foundation for future mental health reforms, and we will continue to fight for sustainable funding to support children, youth, and families.
If you’d like to get involved in PCMH’s policy and advocacy efforts, or have related questions, you can reach Alli at email@example.com.