For Immediate Release - August 21, 2008

Governor Patrick Signs Bill to Improve Children's Mental Health Care

Law will help identify and treat mental illness in children statewide

BOSTON - Thursday, August 21, 2008 - Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law a bill that will improve access and quality of care for children living with mental illness. The new law will make it easier for the Commonwealth to identify and treat mental illness in children through early screenings.

"Massachusetts has been a leader in expanding health insurance for all of its citizens and now we are focused on meeting the needs of every child," said Governor Patrick. "This law continues our commitment to providing every child with access to mental health care with the same certainty and dedication that we provide medical care."

"This new law will help children suffering from depression and mental illness get the kind of treatment they need and deserve - treatment that is the key to preventing physical harm and suicide," said House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. "I am so pleased that, together, we have been able to do so much this session for those suffering from depression and mental illness and thank my partners, Governor Patrick and Senate President Murray, for their focus with the House on these important issues."

"There are too many children in the Commonwealth who go undiagnosed or untreated for mental illness," Senate President Therese Murray said. "This new law will help seal the cracks in our system with increased screenings for early diagnosis and streamlined services for all Massachusetts children, including more than 100,000 who are currently not receiving the care they need. With these efforts, we hope to reduce suicides and other hardships brought on by mental illness, and ensure that children and their families have the best opportunity to live happy, healthy lives."

Passage of An Act Relative to Children's Mental Health will create new practices for reaching children as early as possible to ensure that they are properly diagnosed and treated. Key provisions create a children's behavioral health research and evaluation council, as well as interagency service review teams to collaborate on complex cases for children who may need services from multiple state agencies.

Additionally, the bill establishes a task force to improve collaborative services in schools so that schools can best address children's behavioral health needs. Under the bill, the Department of Early Education and Care will provide behavioral health consultation services in early education and care programs to reach children with mental illness earlier.

"This bill is an important step toward ensuring that the Commonwealth has a system of care, both public and private, that is responsive to the needs of children with mental health problems," said Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"Once again, Massachusetts leads the way in building a world class system of health care," said Representative Ruth B. Balser, the lead sponsor in the House and the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. "Today, with the Governor's signature, we move closer to providing the children of the Commonwealth with access to a mental health system that is high-quality, accessible and cost effective."

The bill's lead sponsor in the Senate, Senator Steven Tolman, said: "There are far too many of the Commonwealth's children living with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. These children and their families have to struggle with a fragmented system to receive the services they desperately need. This bill will streamline the agencies responsible for their care and maximize each child's overall outcome. Most importantly it will provide them with much needed support and assistance."

"The passage of the 'Children's Mental Health Bill' is another important step in ensuring the complete health of young people throughout the Commonwealth. I am happy to stand with Governor Patrick and my colleagues in the Legislature as we continue to make mental health a priority for Massachusetts," said Senator Gale Candaras, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

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