STATE HOUSE — School psychological services provided by social workers and certified psychologists will be covered by Medicaid thanks to a law passed in the House and Senate June 15.
The law, sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) is intended to improve access to school-based psychological services. The Promoting Access to Increased Mental Health Services for All Students Act, (2023-H 5010aa, 2023-S 0869A), directs that services provided by school social workers and certified school psychologists would be included as health care-related services eligible for federal Medicaid reimbursement. It was sent to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk June 19, who signed it June 22.
“We are just now beginning to understand the ways the pandemic has affected the mental health of our children,” said McNamara, who chairs the House Education Committee. “Mental health conditions can affect academic achievement, increase involvement with the family court, cause family rifts, and increase the risk for suicide. Any help our communities can get in ensuring the presence of these mental health professionals and the essential services they provide would be a tremendous benefit to the families of Rhode Island.”
According to the 2022 Rhode Island Kids Count Fact Book, there has been an increase in anxiety and depression among youth, especially among young children of color and LGBTQ youth, since 2020.
“Children and educators need our help and support to address the growing mental health concerns of our students,” said Cano, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “The pandemic has also brought about several new mental health challenges for our kids so there needs to be dedicated funding to ensure that their mental health needs are met and sustained. By supporting students’ mental health needs, we will help them come to school better prepared to learn, providing them with the opportunities that they deserve to set them on the path for lifelong success,”
In 2019, 15 percent of Rhode Island high school students reported attempting suicide one or more times during the past year. In Rhode Island between 2016 and 2020, there were 2,356 emergency department visits and 1,236 hospitalizations of youth ages 13-19 due to suicide and 13 children ages 15 to 19 died due to suicide.
An estimated 13.7 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression or behavioral health disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, behavioral health disorders can prevent children from developing coping and resiliency skills — abilities they need to help them learn, behave or handle their emotions. These skills are essential to healthy social development and help ensure children have a positive quality of life now and into adulthood.
Studies have shown children spend approximately 49 percent of their days in a school setting and are six times more likely to get evidence-based treatment when offered in schools than in other community settings. By linking programs and supports that foster a comprehensive school mental health system, states can not only reduce the number of children experiencing anxiety, depression and behavioral health disorders, but also save a considerable amount in economic costs.
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