Children’s Mental Health and Policy

In the Fall of 2013, the McSilver Institute partnered with the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and Social Justice Solutions to co-sponsor a symposium in Washington, DC, on the impact of federal policies and programs on children’s mental health services. Joined in the Canon House Office Building by leading advocates, researchers, and policymakers, three robust panels and an outstanding opening plenary provided extensive information on the current state of services and where children’s mental health is headed at the federal level.

We chose May 6, 2014, to release this special issue in recognition of SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: “Inspiring Resilience, Creating Hope,” during the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Annual Conference. Increasing public awareness is necessary to expanding mental health services for youth and was covered extensively during the symposium by many of the speakers and panelists.

As a policy and research focused institute, McSilver recognizes that both preventing and eliminating existing poverty requires a much closer examination of the links between inequality and mental health issues, particularly related to trauma. We are committed to integrating evidenced-based best practices and policy to help make major advances in this critical area.

Our sincere thanks to the nineteen speakers and panelists who provided the symposium with unprecedented expertise and experience, our partners at CRISP whose tireless efforts help bring these important issues to light, and Rep. Barbara Lee and the Congressional Social Work Caucus for their ongoing leadership.

In part one of this special issue brief, we want to share with you the opening plenary remarks and panel discussion around Using Medicaid to Provide Children’s Mental Health Services.  

At the top of the day, special guest Stephen T. Baron, M.S.W., Director of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, discussed the importance of early detection and treatment of childhood mental illness within the parameters of Medicaid. Keynote speaker Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W, Director of SAMHSA, shared his personal experience with mental illness while outlining the need for resources for early intervention. Representative Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Co-Chair, Congressional Mental Health Caucus and Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13), Chair, Congressional Social Work Caucus, commented on their work on their respective legislative priorities, the Mental Health in Schools and the Student Support Acts.


Resources & More Information

The full program, list of speakers, and speaker bios are available on the CRISP website. 

Mental Health in Schools Act was introduced by Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. The proposal calls for increased mental health treatment for youth and addresses the importance of early detection and treatment, which in turn will help keep healthcare costs low in the long run. This act would bring mental health professionals into schools for on-site care by providing grant funding that would be distributed by SAMHSA as an extension of their Safe Students, Healthy Schools program.

Student Support Act is sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and enables the Secretary of Education to issue grants of at least $1 million to schools around the country to hire on-site mental health providers. The requirements include one school counselor for every 250 students, one school psychologist for every 1,000 students, and one school social worker for every 250 students.

The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment program (EPSDT) is a Medicaid program that is mandatory for all states, but voluntary for participants. EPSDT provides periodic screens for behavioral health issues in conjunction with anticipatory guidance for parents and caregivers. While participation is voluntary, treatment is mandatory for any participant who has been identified with any behavioral health risk factor. The goal of the program is to integrate primary health care with behavioral and developmental care and increase treatment access for low-income families.

The National Council for Behavioral Health unifies community mental health and substance use treatment organizations in the United States. The council is committed to improving access and the delivery of comprehensive, high-quality mental health care. The Council has resources and activities ranging from policy action and development to helping providers with program implementation and best practices.

The Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) offers a number of resources and up to date information about implementing strong school mental health services, as well as news related to school mental health. CSMH’s briefs serve as a strong resource for staying up to date on school-focused mental health services. 

The National Alliance of Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Children and Adolescent Action Center provides information and links to outside organizations focused on special education and school based mental health. NAMI also provides great resources related to building Individualized Education Programs (IEP) including tips for parents and educators for building and understanding an IEP.

The Institute of Medicine has highlighted the advancements and opportunities in mental health preventative care including the impact of services, financial advantages, and evaluation of value. One report in particular, Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities, was reference throughout the symposium.

Over the several weeks we will post parts 2 through 4, stay tuned!


Courtesy of McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy and Research who has kindly given SJS permission to syndicate this piece.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Policy News Briefs are not necessarily the views of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research or NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. If you have comments or suggestions about this service, contact us at


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