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Youth Mental & Behavioral Health

Services that support youth mental health and social emotional development promote positive outcomes and decrease risky behaviors among youth and adolescents, including substance use. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2021, a group of the nation’s experts in child health declared the mental health of our nation’s children and adolescents a national emergency. Nationally, the twin crises of mental health and COVID-19 are impacting adolescent girls and children of color disproportionately compared to adolescent boys and white children.  

According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for adolescent girls ages 12 to 17 between February and March 2021, compared to the same period in 2019. Data from the CDC also show that in 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for mental health emergencies among children rose by 24% for those aged 5 to 11, and by 31% for those aged 12 to 17, compared to pre-pandemic levels. These findings provide a stark reality of the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health and highlight the importance of continued focus on this area. 

A recent study also found that 140,000 children across the country have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19. This traumatic childhood event is categorized as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), with likely negative impacts on health and well-being. The majority of those children impacted by COVID-19 associated orphanhood were kids of color. The study shows that when compared with white children, Indigenous children were 4.5 times more likely to have lost a primary caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were nearly twice as likely. 

The prevalence in Colorado teens of both symptoms of depression and increased suicide rates are important and heartbreaking metrics the Colorado Children’s Campaign has been tracking. The share of Colorado youth experiencing these negative mental health outcomes has significantly increased in recent years. With this knowledge comes a greater responsibility for educators, policymakers, and school leaders to consistently work towards improved mental health assessments and action. It is essential that we take action to increase implementation of effective school-based mental health care models and effective social emotional learning programs. We must also address funding and regulatory challenges to provide access to affordable, culturally responsive, and high-quality behavioral health care services and professionals, in both school and community settings, and in every region of the state.


Recent Policy Successes 

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. The bill requires the development of a model policy to promote best practices and proper training for school security staff. 

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.

HB22-1289 (Gonzales-Gutierrez & McCluskie/Moreno) Health Benefits For Colorado Children and Pregnant Persons (aka Cover all Coloradans) will provide comprehensive public health insurance coverage to children, pregnant and postpartum undocumented Coloradans and make other investments in perinatal care and services in Colorado. This includes investing in services that support the mental health and wellbeing of children and their caregivers.


Looking for Info on Child Well-Being?

Our annual KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report tracks the best available state- and county-level data on child well-being in Colorado. Find out how kids are faring in your community.