In the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been an increased sense of urgency around the need to expand access to mental health care for children, youth, and young adults. Although it is well recognized that mental health directly affects children’s learning and development, in a recent study one-third of school districts reported decreased funding for school mental health services, and at the same time two-thirds of 15 school districts reported an increased need.

 In 2009, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano from California, offered up a piece of legislation titled the Mental Health in Schools Act. This legislation’s intent was to revise and extend projects relating to children and violence to provide access to school-based mental health programs. Education staff, volunteers, families and other members of the community would be trained about the signs of behavioral health problems in children and youth so that more students would be referred to appropriate services. The legislation would authorize $200 million in grant funding per year over five years, and eligible schools could apply for up to $1 million per grant year, based on the size of their student population.

Just this past February, the Mental Health in Schools Act was reintroduced by Rep. Napolitano in the House and by Sen. Al Franken in the Senate. The legislation was referred to a congressional committee for consideration before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole. As of this date, it has not been moved out of committee. This legislation has the power to ‘plant a seed’ of change to transform the way our educational and mental health systems partner on behalf of children and youth mental health therefore creating another opportunity for us all to Invest in America’s Youth.

One in five youth in the United States experience mental illness, and 70 percent of adolescents with mental health problems do not receive care. Schools are frequently where children and youth with mental health needs spend a great portion of their days. Due to this, the educational system is perfectly positioned, in partnership with community-based organizations, to screen, identify and connect children, youth and families to mental health care resources.

Now more than ever we need to communicate with our legislators about the importance of keeping children’s mental health at the forefront of funding decisions being made about health care. You have an opportunity to send your legislators a clear message: Children’s mental health should stay a top priority!

It’s easy to do and only takes a minute:

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