State lawmakers prepare proposals to improve children’s mental health care – Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon lawmakers are working on bills ahead of the 2023 legislative session to help tens of thousands of children who suffer from mental health issues.

State Sen. Sarah Gelser Blouin, who chairs the Senate Mental Health Committee, told the Capital Chronicle that she is working on legislation to improve access to mental health services by strengthening the Student Success Act. The 2019 bill invests $2 billion in public schools every two years, and some of that money is earmarked to fund school mental health services.

But the majority of students were moved to online learning in the first year of the pandemic, which seriously hindered the introduction of these new services.

Gelser Blouin said he wants to pass laws to help the Oregon Department of Education manage those dollars effectively to prevent mental health crises and provide greater access to vulnerable children.

“We’ve certainly had a significant struggle with providing services for children who are in crisis or have very significant complex behavioral health needs,” Gelser Buen said. “Part of the problem is that it’s very difficult for children to get the support they need early, before something becomes a crisis. There are a whole host of reasons for this, from the adequacy of the provider network to commercial insurance reimbursements.

Gelser Blouin said she focused on proposals that would stop youth suicides and tackle bullying and racism. She would also like children to receive hospital care that lasts longer than 14 days, a typical cap imposed by private insurers. Gelzer Blowin said children also need better access to mental health care outside of school so they don’t end up in emergency rooms that aren’t well-equipped to deal with mental health issues. One proposal that could become law in 2023 would give children more access to hospital treatment and therapy by topping up their insurance to prevent carriers from denying care.

The push to improve access to mental health care coincides with the release of a study released last week showing Oregon children experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than the national average.

“Young people in Oregon and across the country are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels,” said a statement from Our Children Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit that publishes its own analysis of Oregon’s children.

2022 Kids Count” was commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a philanthropy in Baltimore, Maryland, involved in supporting initiatives to help children. The survey looks at four areas – well-being, education, health and family and community – to determine how children are doing in each state. The report is based on data from US Census Bureau surveys.

The report ranked Oregon, which has 860,000 children, 26th overall among the 50 states. It shows the state made progress between 2016 and 2020: fewer children live in poverty and with parents without secure jobs, and more high school students graduate on time.

“Before the pandemic, many important new policies in Oregon, given our policy, led to improvements in various social outcomes and services in a way that other states did not implement and invest in the same way,” said Gioni Tetsuro Schuler, research manager at Our Children Oregon.

But in many areas, children are doing worse in 2020. Teenage mortality has increased and a higher proportion are obese. Oregon also ranked poorly in educational achievement at 41 out of 50. In 2019 — the most recent year for which education data was used in the survey — two-thirds of Oregon’s third-graders were not proficient in reading, and 70 percent of eighth-graders were not proficient in mathematics. These numbers are even higher among racial and ethnic minorities: 83 percent of Hispanic third graders were not proficient in reading, and nearly 90 percent of Native American eighth graders were not proficient in math.

The number of Oregon children struggling with anxiety and depression also increased, from 11% in 2016 to 16% in 2020, a 40% increase from 83,000 to 117,000 children.

Nationally, nearly 12 percent of children — roughly 1.5 million — experienced anxiety and depression in 2020, up from 9.4 percent in 2016. The study attributed this increase, in part, to the disruption of education during the first year of the pandemic.


Schuler said the study shows that many children suffering from anxiety and depression do not have access to counseling services. But economic factors such as a lack of food and stable housing also cause mental health stress, Shuler said. The survey ranked Oregon 30 out of 50 in terms of the economic well-being of its children. Oregonians of color and rural communities are suffering the worst, Shuler said.

“In rural parts of our state and where there is a large concentration of BIPOC youth, there are significant disparities that are systemic,” Shuler said, referring to black residents, indigenous people and people of color. “We’re talking about a lack of investment and systems that have been in place long enough that we still see you in certain areas not thriving and not being able to access the right resources.”

Nearly a third of children in Douglas, Yamhill, Crook and Jackson counties reported not having access to counseling. In Coos, Grant and Lincoln counties, nearly a quarter of children don’t get enough nutritious food.

In Wheeler, Malheur, Harney, Coos and Curry counties, between one-fifth and one-quarter of all children live in households below the federal poverty line — $13,590 in annual income for a single person or $27,750 for a family of four.

The report shows that half of families with children in Oregon face high housing costs that account for a third of their income.

And while 3.6 percent of families with children statewide reported unstable housing situations, that rate doubled for black and Native American families in 2020.

“Housing is one data point that reflects how these issues are multifaceted,” Shuler said. “There are many aspects involved in larger economic systems,” including excessive housing costs, displacement due to natural disasters such as wildfires and food insecurity.

Shuler said the Oregon Legislature’s focus on increasing spending on mental health and substance abuse care gives her hope that conditions will continue to improve for the state’s children.

Gelser Blouin said one area where the state needs significant improvement is providing a continuum of care, not just one point in time.

“We’ve never had systems in place to support people once they’ve gone through the crisis,” she said. “We can build beds forever, but until we really invest in community services and recognize that people with mental illness need lifelong support and comprehensive services to continue to thrive, we will continue to remain in crisis .”

Leave a Comment