Legislative Gazette: Child welfare advocates rally for mental health funding


February 5, 2020

As the governor and lawmakers begin to work out next year’s budget in Albany, and grappling with a Medicaid redesign to close funding gaps, child welfare advocates are concerned about cuts they say could negatively affect teens and younger children in New York state.

These advocates and behavioral health providers are calling on the governor and legislators to provide more resources for programs combatting child and teen suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for New York children age 15-19, and the third leading cause of death for children age 5-15, according to New York State Department of Health, 2016.

These figures are growing even faster amongst black and Latinx children.

During a recent rally in the state Capitol, lawmakers and advocates stood with signs for the campaign, “Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids,” asking the state to increase access to children’s services and for help putting children on a path to become healthy adults.

Attending the rally was 21-year-old Amanda Davidson, who shared her struggle with finding proper behavioral care. She described finding outpatient therapy at a young age was difficult.

“I didn’t have easy access to a provider,” Davidson said. “Most of the professionals I went to ended up being transferred.”

Davidson questioned what would happen to other children if funding to prevention and care programs is cut in the adopted budget.

She referenced Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” predicting that adult health care services would be flooded in the future if child health care services are cut now.

“Early intervention is prevention,” Davidson said.

Notable numbers have been reported for children’s behavioral health, like 20 percent of children ages two to 17 have one or more emotional, behavior or developmental condition, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and 17 percent of high school students reported they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children and Family Treatment and Support Services (CFTSS) has resources like easier access to children’s services, crisis intervention, family peer support, rehabilitation from substance use, psychiatric support and more, but they have faced cuts earlier this year.

Sen. Pete Harckham, D-South Salem, came forward and succinctly said, “One word: No. No cuts to child behavioral health.”

The senator continued by saying, “Not treating children at the earliest stages gets more and more expensive the older they get.” This was echoed by many of the other advocates, including Davidson, that spoke at the rally, in an effort to explain why spending now, on children instead of adults, makes more sense.

Among the dozens of people in attendance at the January 28 rally was Keith Little, the CEO of an organization that serves children in shelters, foster care and early childhood and after school programs in New York City, Long Island and Yonkers.

Little pointed out that recent statistics have “disproportionate representation among children of color.”

Ron Richter, CEO and executive director of JCCA, formerly known as Jewish Child Care Association, brought to light how those in the LGBTQ+ community are also a part of disproportionate numbers of people who are suffering from being bullied in school and family rejection. According to the CDC, it is reported that lesbian, gay and bisexual students considered suicide three times the rate of heterosexual peers.

“Children are New York’s future, and it is the responsibility of all of us, including the State, to ensure that all children can access the vital, lifesaving care they need,” said Lauri Cole, executive director of the New York State Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

The Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids campaign is also directed towards helping those with substance use disorder conditions. Cole said, “With the backdrop of the opioid crisis, 24 percent of New York’s high school students report being offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property, and almost 5 percent of high school students report the use of heroin at least once.”

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