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Kaine & Collins Introduce Bill to Support Children’s Access to Mental Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Investing in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Act, legislation to support children’s access to mental health care. The pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges among children. It has been reported that one in five children in Virginia experience mental health conditions.

“I’ve continuously said that the mental health impacts of COVID will be with us long after the public health emergency is over,” said Senator Kaine. “That’s why it’s critical we’re providing our nation’s children, who are reporting alarming spikes in anxiety and depression, with the mental health support they need. This bill is going to help ensure children have access to mental health resources early in life so that we can try to prevent more severe mental health challenges from developing as they get older.”

“Youth experiencing difficulties with mental health often face challenges adjusting to school and are at an increased risk for drug use and other dangerous behaviors. The pandemic and its consequences, such as social isolation, only exacerbated this issue,” said Senator Collins. “Investing in mental health services beginning at an early age can help young people improve their overall wellbeing and provide them with a firm foundation to succeed in life. The IECMH program has trained thousands of mental health workers and provided screenings and referrals for thousands of children. Our bipartisan bill would strengthen this program to reach even more families.”  

Specifically, the legislation reauthorizes the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) program at $50 million through Fiscal Year 2027—an increase in funding from the program’s original authorization of $20 million. The IECMH program provides grants to human service agencies or non-profits to develop, maintain, or enhance early intervention mental health programs and treatments for children from birth up to 12 years of age who have experienced trauma or are at high risk for mental health challenges. This program supports mental health care both for children at the first signs of mental or behavioral challenges and for children who have long suffered from these challenges. Without action, the program’s funding could soon run out. The bill also authorizes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to fund a technical assistance center to provide the necessary training and resources to carry out this work. Early identification and intervention for emotional or behavioral disorders for infants and young children may help to prevent more severe mental health issues in later youth and adulthood.

A bill similar to this one, first introduced by U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA-08) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D. (R-IA-02), was included in the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act passed by the House of Representatives on June 22, 2022.

Kaine his long pushed to expand access to mental health care. He is a cosponsor of legislation to prevent youth suicide by funding prevention initiatives and providing more training to health care workers.

Full text of the bill is available here.