Representative Dafna Michaeson Jenet said kids who get support are more successful in school so it's imperative to support everyone.
While the pandemic is still ongoing, the fallout from it will be felt for years to come. After being ravaged by a health and financial crisis, many have been forced to coop up indoors as well to stay safe and the ramifications of that are potentially huge. Especially for students who haven't been able to go to school during the last year. Colorado is taking steps to ensure they have mental health support during this difficult time. A new bipartisan bill will see every Coloradan age 18 and younger given access to a free mental health screening. They will also be eligible for as many as three free subsequent visits with a mental health professional. The bill is aimed at helping kids navigate the effects of the Coronavirus crisis, reported Colorado Sun.
House Bill 1258 will be funded by a one-time allocation of $9 million and is one of the biggest behavioral health initiatives in the state's history. An online portal will be created where children can fill out an assessment, before being connected with providers if and when needed. “We know that kids who are getting the support that they need are healthier and more successful at school,” said state Representative Dafna Michaeson Jenet. “If we can get that to every kid in Colorado? Game-changer.” Jenet, who's a Democrat, is a prime sponsor of the legislation. The $9 million set aside for the program is expected to be spent by June 30, 2022.
Jenet’s initial idea was to check in on every Colorado student after their school life was disrupted on account of Coronavirus. The new bill also offers them free mental health screening prior to the start of the next academic year. While Jenet knew the bill was needed, she had doubts if the state had the money or if there would a bipartisan approach to the bill to make it happen. Governor Jared Polis’ administration had pitched a similar proposal and so they combined both the ideas which eventually became House Bill 1258. The bill is funded and included as part of an $800 million state Coronavirus stimulus package that lawmakers are are preparing. The state's stimulus package has bipartisan support and includes money for restaurant tax relief to drought-resiliency programs. The package's prime sponsor is Republican Representative Kevin Van Winkle. The bill has the support of Democratic leadership at the Capitol.
Jenet, who's former speech and language therapist, is hoping the mental health screenings start before the end of the current academic year. "That would be phenomenal,” she said. She said kids returning to school without a mental health check will feel like they are being put in the pressure cooker. Parents have been reporting their kids experiencing mental health issues during the past year. Children’s Hospital Colorado reported a sharp rise in mental health-related visits. Should there be money left over in the program, kids will be able to access more than three free visits. When Jenet was asked if the money allotted seemed a little big, she responded saying she was worried it wouldn't be enough. “In order for it to not be enough we need to do our job really well on the back end of this passing and make sure we get word-of-mouth (marketing) and communities involved and engaged. Quite frankly, I hope we run out of money and need to find more,” said Jenet. Those between the ages 19 and 22 years old will also be able to access free counseling if they are receiving special-education services.