It’s a tragedy we see in the news constantly: Colorado is in a state of crisis for child and youth behavioral health. Colorado has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the nation, and clusters of suicide have rocked communities from Colorado Springs to Durango to Grand Junction. More generally, mental health problems later in life can nearly all be traced to childhood and young adulthood; 50 percent of mental health conditions emerge before age 14, and 75 percent by age 24, but far fewer are accurately diagnosed and treated.

Fortunately, solutions are within reach, both for individual children and youth, and for our state’s mental health system as a whole. A bipartisan measure currently pending before the legislature has the potential to transform our state’s mental health system to better serve Colorado children, youth and families.

But we need your help. Faced with a crowded agenda, lawmakers need to hear from their constituents that mental health must be a top priority this year.

Today in our state, responsibility and authority for children’s behavioral health care is dispersed among multiple state agencies, healthcare providers and local governments. This fragmentation can lead to a lack of coordination, meaning some children will be missed by early interventions, then later need much more costly treatments in the long run. Key programs that could better serve children and youth of all ages and needs are either not present in Colorado or lack the needed coordination, accountability, and flexibility to most effectively serve our state’s young people.

That’s why organizations from across Colorado are supportive of Senate Bill 195, a bipartisan bill that would create a behavioral health system accountable for Colorado children, youth and families. Senate Bill 195 would move forward a set of programs to better identify child and youth behavioral health needs early in life, implement comprehensive “wraparound” care coordination services to get kids the right care at the right time, and start to build out ways to blend funding across agencies to more comprehensively support behavioral health needs.

More specifically, Senate Bill 195 would:

  • Standardize screening and assessments to identify potential behavioral health concerns earlier in life, so that children and youth can enjoy better long-term health outcomes. Colorado currently does not have this standardized approach to screening and assessment, which can lead to missed early identification and referral services.
  • Implement cost-effective, “Wraparound” services for eligible children. Wraparound is a structured approach to service planning and care coordination for individuals with complex needs. Investment in this model results in per capita cost savings through reduced use of expensive facility-based care and can lower the number of out-of-home placements.
  • Resolve the challenges of a fragmented behavioral health delivery system by designing an integrated funding pilot to improve access to services. State agencies, in partnership with stakeholders, would develop a test model for blending and braiding funding between local governments and state agencies that can, in future years, be centralized across system structures for children and youth served by multiple systems.

In concert with forthcoming executive action from the Governor and the Colorado Department of Human Services, these policies will help drive consistency, alignment, and integration across entities, while preserving existing collaborative behavioral health efforts and upholding local authority and customization. This combined approach can deliver better outcomes and cost savings for taxpayers.

Our kids can’t wait. SB-195 is a transformative proposal that’s proven to work, and it’s a big step we can and should take this year to dramatically improve our state’s mental health system for kids.

Please contact advocacy@childrenscolorado.org with questions.