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Statement from California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly on the Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and National Children’s Hospital Association

“As a primary care pediatrician and a father of four, I have seen first-hand the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of California’s children and youth. This is not new. The mental health and substance use challenges facing children and youth were widespread prior to the pandemic but have only been further exacerbated over the course of the last 18 months. The impacts have been born inequitably by children and youth of color, low-income children and youth, Indigenous children and youth, LGBTQ+ children and youth, and those children and youth who are in places where adverse childhood experiences are widespread and prominent.

“Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the National Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) announced they are joining together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. This coalition is calling on policymakers at all levels of government to address this crisis. We agree, and we are already taking action here in California.

“We launched a Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative with a $4.4 billion investment focused on going further upstream so that all children and youth ages 0-25, no matter health insurance type, are routinely screened, supported and served for emerging and existing behavioral health needs. Our focus is on creating a world-class behavioral health system that delivers a set of innovative set of services that are statewide, evidence based, culturally competent and equity focused.

“We are also launching a historic initiative to transform our Medicaid program into a program that ensures individuals can get patient-centered, high-quality care when they need it. The California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM) launches in January, with specific improvements designed to streamline children’s access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. In addition, California is also investing over $2 billion to build and expand treatment facilities, to make sure services are available across the state.

“We recognize that the need is acute and urgent. A resource available now is CalHOPE, which offers free, culturally-responsive, 24/7 phone and chat support for children, youth and people of all ages, as well as web-based self-help resources. CalHOPE Student Support funds training for teachers and staff at California’s schools, to help build learning communities supporting social and emotional learning and wellness. In addition, the state invested $150 million to build out mobile crisis infrastructure with an emphasis on reaching children and youth, and $20 million to prepare California’s network of crisis call centers to support the launch of a new 988 hotline, an alternative to 911, for people seeking help during a mental health crisis.

“While the scale and scope of the behavioral health challenges facing young people is unprecedented, the California Health and Human Services Agency and its departments and offices are committed to working with state and local government partners, schools, community-based organizations, young people and their families to find solutions to meet this moment as we build capacity to support the mental health and well-being of ALL of California’s children and youth.

“We must see these kids as California’s kids, they are our future, and they deserve more from us as adults. We must roll-up our sleeves, build deeper partnerships and ensure that we are building a system that serves the whole needs of our children and youth.”