Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have experienced an unprecedented mental health crisis. In response, President Biden has prioritized strengthening and expanding the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Awards program, according to the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were already on the rise before the pandemic, with up to one in five children ages 3 to 17 in the United States having a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder, but the pandemic exacerbated these issues. Increased isolation and disrupted learning, relationships and routines have resulted in more than 40% of high school students struggling with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Recognizing these pediatric mental health issues, HHS announced that it will be awarding nearly $27 million to improve and expand children’s mental health care through the Health Resources and Services Administration. Funding is intended to expand the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program and comes from President Biden’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the American Rescue Plan. The program expansion will help address children’s mental health needs and strengthen available services.
The funding specifically focuses on:
- child and teen mental health training for physicians
- training other pediatric health care providers in treating mental health conditions
- providing tele-consultation services designed to bring expert mental health support directly to pediatric primary care providers. By utilizing the tele-consultation services, pediatric primary care providers can consult virtually with pediatric mental health specialists to better diagnose, treat and refer youths to services for mental health conditions
Through the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program, new programs under the American Rescue Plan have been allocated $9 million. Three national organizations – School-Based Health Alliance, American Academy of Pediatrics and University of Texas at Austin – will receive a total of $3.2 million to expand and improve behavioral health services in pediatric practices, schools and emergency departments. Furthermore, 48 other awardees will receive $300,000 each as a down payment on expansion.
In addition to awards provided through the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program, the U.S. Department of Education released Notices Inviting Applications for two grant programs totaling $280 million, funded through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, that aim to increase access to school-based mental health providers.