Social Emotional Development
Social-emotional skill-building and support helps children develop communication and problem-solving skills, emotional regulation, conflict resolution, friendship, help-seeking, and coping skills. Teaching these skills early on helps to support children’s and caregivers’ mental health, promote a positive school climate, and help students feel more connected to their school and peers. When children learn these skills at a younger age, they are better equipped to use and strengthen them as they get older. Supporting young children’s social-emotional development – especially for those who may need additional support – also prevents out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and protects against youth school-based violence and suicide down the line.
Mental health is a cornerstone of child and family well-being. The link between a child’s mental health and their school readiness, behavioral and social-emotional well-being, and long-term health and life outcomes is significant during early and adolescent development. Like many other determinants of health and well-being, mental health exists on a continuum – kids of all ages experience mental health challenges, ranging from normal stressors to serious and/or recurring instances of trauma. In this way, the mental health of our parents, families, educators, caregivers, and our communities is vital to the healthy, supportive development of our kids.
Colorado has made promising progress to better support behavioral and social-emotional well-being in recent years. However, the compounding stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the critical importance of mental health and social-emotional support for all of our kids and families. This is especially important for kids that identify as LGBTQ+, families of color, and families facing barriers to economic security. Unfortunately, national data show a steep decline in critical services like childhood screening tests and outpatient mental health visits among children enrolled in Medicaid or CHP+ in Colorado. Both services saw a 44% decline between March and May of 2019, and during the same time period in 2020.
Recent Policy Successes
During Colorado’s 2022 legislative session, the Children’s Campaign supported multiple efforts which invest in mental and behavioral health, including the following:
HB22-1376 (Herod & Young/ Priola & Winter) Supportive Learning Environments for K-12 Students updates Colorado’s policies, practices, and data frameworks to better measure and support positive school climates. It requires the Department of Education to gather data and create accessible, annually updated reports with consistent data concerning chronic absenteeism rates, suspensions, expulsions, and the number of students handcuffed or restrained, among other indicators of school climate. It also updates restraint and seclusion policies and limits practices that have been shown to harm students, such as handcuffing.
SB22-147 (Kolker & Sonnenberg/Young & Pelton) Concerning Behavioral Health Care Integration Services for Children appropriates $5 million in federal stimulus funds to the School Health Professional Grant Program. The bill also appropriates $1.5 million in federal stimulus funds for school-based health centers. Additionally, the bill creates the Colorado Pediatric Psychiatry Consultation and Access Program (CoPPCAP) and appropriates $4.6 million in federal stimulus funds to the program.
HB22-1295 (Sirota & Garnet/ Buckner & Fenberg) Department Early Childhood and Universal Preschool Program establishes the functions of the Department of Early Childhood, as well as the director of the department, in administering early childhood and family support programs. Effective July 1, 2022, the bill transfers responsibilities concerning early childhood workforce development to this new state department. The bill also creates the Colorado Universal Preschool Program, which will provide, at minimum, 10 hours per week of preschool services for children in the year before kindergarten, effective July 1, 2023.
HB22-1289 (Gonzales-Gutierrez & McCluskie/Moreno) Health Benefits For Colorado Children and Pregnant Persons (aka Cover all Coloradans) provides comprehensive public health insurance coverage to children, pregnant and postpartum undocumented Coloradans and make a number of other investments in perinatal care and services in Colorado.
SB21-137 (Pettersen/Michaelson Jenet & Kennedy) Behavioral Health Recovery Act restores funding to certain behavioral health programs that received a reduction in funding during the 2020 legislative session and begins to appropriate millions of federal stimulus dollars for behavioral health purposes in Colorado. This bill also requires the state to offer an additional perinatal depression screening at well-child visits through the Medicaid program, and provides funding for additional early childhood mental health consultants through the state program.
These are just a few pieces of legislation that will have a positive impact on child, family, and community mental health and well-being in the years to come. Despite this progress, we recognize that there is more to be done to best set our kids and families up to thrive.