With children in crisis, families and advocates rally for more mental health support in state budget


February 23, 2023

By Cayla Bamberger

Families and advocates rallied Wednesday to underscore how a statewide shortage of mental health services is hurting children in New York and to press for more investment in treatment.

The Campaign for Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids, a coalition of nonprofits and providers that organized the virtual demonstration, urged lawmakers to set aside at least half of $1 billion in the governor’s executive budget for behavioral health to tackle an acute crisis in children’s well-being.

They also called for greater funding for workforce development and school-based mental health resources — noting that about half of young people who experienced a major depressive episode last year did not receive treatment.

One mom on Long Island said after her son was discharged from residential treatment in 2019, he had to wait for services at home and in his town. Months passed by without the help he needed, and he attempted suicide.

“Reading his suicide note that he left behind is something that no parent should ever have to go through,” said Christina Hauptman, whose 15-year-old son has struggled with his mental health. “Since that day, I check on Cody every night when he’s asleep just to make sure that he’s still breathing.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens statewide, according to the campaign. But the state has been losing more than 1,200 beds in mental health hospitals and facilities over the last decade, and the rate of child psychiatrists to children — 28 to 100,000 — remains woefully inadequate to meet the need, advocates said.

Tiara Springer-Love, director of the youth program at Families Together in New York State, said that when she had her first episode at 14, providers were there to provide treatment. But nearly a decade later when she needed clinical support again, she was placed on a months-long waitlist in New York City, without medication and just a hotline.

“That waiting period was one of the most challenging times of my life,” said Springer-Love, who after navigating the mental health and foster care systems became a social worker. “No one should have to wait to get the help they desperately want, the help they desperately need and the help they desperately deserve.”

The governor’s budget makes significant investments in children’s mental health, including $12 million toward a pediatric primary care program and home-based crisis intervention teams, according to the briefing book. She also proposed $10 million in grants for youth suicide prevention programs, $10 million for school-based clinics, $5 million for comprehensive services led by care managers and $3 million for centers addressing eating disorders.

“My goal is to reduce the unmet mental health needs of our children by half in the next five years,” said Gov. Hochul at a press conference earlier this month in the Bronx. “That’s ambitious, that’s bold — but we have no choice.”

Critics said the state lacks a robust network for behavioral health services, and without additional funding to bolster a demoralized workforce, providers will continue to leave the field for jobs that are less emotionally taxing.

While Hochul proposed a 2.5% cost of living adjustment to fund providers, advocates are pushing lawmakers to more than triple that figure.

“That’s what’s missing in this budget,” said Bradley Hansen, public policy director at Families Together. “Despite all the wonderful things we’re seeing — capital, money for buildings — that’s not the same as what we need, which is people.”

The state budget is due by April 1.

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