Governor Patrick signs bill strengthening system of children's mental health
Law makes Massachusetts a national leader in providing care to children with mental health needs
August 21, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick today signed An Act Relative to Children's Mental Health. The bill will strengthen the system that delivers care and services that directly benefit children with mental health needs and their families.
"Massachusetts has been a leader in expanding health insurance for all of its citizens and now we are focused on meeting the needs of every child," said Governor Patrick. "This law continues our commitment to providing every child with access to mental health care with the same certainty and dedication that we provide medical care."
This legislation, often referred to as "Yolanda's Law," has been dedicated to the memory of Yolanda Torres, a 16-year old from Plymouth, who gave moving testimony before the legislature in support of the bill but took her own life earlier this year.
"The best interests of our children and their mental health are served by this legislation. I am proud of the work of our Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee under Chairwoman Ruth Balser's leadership and of the entire House in providing access to critical services for children and their parents, alike," said House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
"Yolanda would have been proud to see this day arrive and to know that her passion and voice were instrumental in improving mental health services for all children with mental health needs," Senate President Therese Murray stated. "Thank you also to Senator Steve Tolman who has been a champion of reforming the mental health care system to meet the needs of children and families."
The law enables school personnel to receive mental health consultation and guidance; promotes behavioral health screening for children during visits to their doctors; provides behavioral health consultations for very young children in early education and preschool settings; and creates processes to move children with mental health needs who are ready for discharge from acute care facilities to more appropriate community settings.
Representative Ruth Balser, the House sponsor of the legislation, said, "It is vital that we create a true mental health care system for children and families, one that is capable of providing high quality, timely, accessible, cost effective care in the best setting for the child. This legislation is a major step in that direction."
Senator Steven Tolman, Senate sponsor of the legislation, remarked, "I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate and House and Governor Patrick, as well as all the families and advocates who worked tirelessly in supporting this bill. This is a great day for children and their families who are living with mental illness but now can receive the care they need."
The legislation was supported by more than 120 organizations, including health care providers, advocates, educators and families, and passed overwhelmingly in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.
"I want to thank Governor Patrick, Senate President Murray, Speaker DiMasi, Senator Tolman and Representative Balser for their tireless efforts on behalf of children and families," said Mary Lou Sudders, president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "With your actions today, we can begin to insure that children receive the care they need, when they need it and at an earlier age so we can prevent mental illness from stealing any other childhoods."
According to a report by Children's Hospital Boston and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of the more than 140,000 young people under age 18 who need mental health services each year, more than 100,000 do not receive them. The consequences of not receiving needed treatment can be devastating for children suffering from mental illness and their families. Suicide remains the third leading cause of death among young people aged 10-24. Tragically, 90% of children who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder at the time of their death. Nearly 50% of children with a mental disorder drop out of school.
Children's Hospital Boston
Health Care for All
Children's Hospital Boston is one of the nation's premier pediatric medical centers. Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, today it is a 397-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, the largest provider of health care to the children of Massachusetts, and home to the world's leading pediatric research enterprise. For more information about Children's, visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.
With over 120 committed organizations, the Children's Mental Health Campaign includes health care providers, advocates, families, educators and consumers from across the Commonwealth. They have joined together to reform the mental health care system for children - a system that is broken and seriously flawed. The campaign supports reform that removes the barriers that children & families face when seeking treatment by making it easier for families to access care from any point in the system.