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The Problem:

Too many Americans are left saying, “If only.”  Right now, children struggle in school as parents, teachers, and the community scramble to help. Without answers, children drop out of school, end up in hospitals or jails, and everyone misses out. However, we know how to intervene early. When our communities have access to early intervention services, they can correct this common trajectory and support our children.

Mental Health America's Recommendations:

  • Mental Health Screening.  Mental health screening should be ubiquitous. We should guarantee mental health screenings to children as part of well-child exams and as frequently as we permit vision, hearing, or dental screening, and to adults as part of annual physicals and as frequently as we screen for blood pressure.
  • Maximize Special Education Dollars.  We must allow Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to incorporate community providers, whose services are paid for by health plans.  In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all services in an IEP must be paid for by special education funds, but because these resources are limited children with serious mental health concerns often are not even made eligible for special education services and don’t get all the help they need. If outside providers could be written into an IEP and allowed to bill public and private health plans, then children could access more services and special education funds could benefit more students. Community providers would also be able to work more effectively with the IEP team so that they best support the child.
  • Expand and Strengthen EPSDT. Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) in Medicaid ensures screening and necessary follow-up care for children, including mental health screening and treatment. EPSDT has been crucial in getting children effective mental health treatment, and should be a part of all health plans, public and private. In many communities, EPSDT has not been fully implemented. Alternative payment models or mechanisms of oversight should be explored for EPSDT implementation, especially to promote coordination and follow-up.
  • Keep Students Learning.  We should prohibit children’s exclusion from school for more than one day unless they received a mental health screen. If the screen is positive for a mental health condition, the child should receive additional support in the IEP to continue learning, and not be removed from school. Currently, schools can remove a child for 10 days when they have a disability, are not required to screen children to see if the disciplinary issue was related to a disability, and force families into often contentious “manifestation” meetings to get additional accommodations or modifications in place. Our laws should not allow the system to fail our children when they need help to be successful in school.

Contact MHA’s Executive Vice President of Policy, Mary Giliberti, for questions, collaboration on mental health legislation, or other MHA recommended policies and bill language, at