Legislators made children’s mental health a priority this legislative session at the urging of teachers, students, and families, and today Governor Ned Lamont signed three historic children’s mental health bills into law surrounded by a sea of supporters.
“This legislation will provide $300 million for critical behavioral health investments for our kids,” said Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz. “Our hope is that these investments in the mental health of children will offset some of the very severe impacts COVID-19 has had on our young people and families.”
[Above CEA President Kate Dias, Rep. Tammy Exum, CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz, AFT President Jan Hochadel, and CEA Executive Director Donald Williams look on as Governor Lamont signs historic children’s mental health legislation.]
Governor Lamont remarked on the unprecedented number of people who turned out for the bill signing, and said that the bills were some of the most impactful of the legislative session.
“I heard from teachers, I heard from paras, I heard from parents,” Lamont said. “I also heard from the kids. There’s a lot of worry about stigma, and I was at Enfield High School and asked students, ‘If you had $10,000 dollars to invest, what would make the biggest difference in your lives?’ And they said, unanimously, ‘mental health, a confidential counselor, a shoulder I can lean upon.’ And these are 17-year-old boys, and that really resonated with me.”
“Our members stood up and spoke out this legislative session, making sure legislators were left with no doubts about the urgent need to act to improve children’s mental health,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “We extend a big thank you to all the legislators who listened to teachers, students, and parents and took action to pass these bills ensuring more mental health supports for our kids.”
Some of the many measures contained in the three bills signed today, SB 1, SB 2, and HB 5001, include more school social workers, psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals, expanded mental health support programs and school-based health centers, no dual teaching, uninterrupted duty-free lunch periods, a task force to explore teacher recruitment and retention incentives, including a CEA-proposed pandemic pension credit, and minority teacher recruitment scholarships.
Legislative champions of the bills celebrated their passage and committed to making sure the measures contained within the bills are fully implemented.
Senator Saud Anwar: “We were in this together for our children. This is heartwarming for me today, and I’m so proud of our state for being who we are. This is one big step forward, but not the final step. I look forward to the work to come.”
Rep. Liz Linehan: “We have been sounding the alarm in the Children’s Committee for many years, and this is one of the steps we need to take. The signing of these bills today is a celebration, and it’s also a call to action. We have invested millions in our children and in mental health services in schools, but parents need to stand up and tell boards of education to apply for the grants so kids don’t suffer in silence.”
Rep. Tammy Exum: “To the superintendent who told me that his top need for his school district was beds to successfully treat kids before they return to school and are unable to learn, we heard you. To the teachers who are already overwhelmed by mounting responsibilities and yet are so worried about the mental health needs of their students, we heard you. We’ve heard so many of you. Thank you for sharing your cares and your concerns, your frustrations and your lived experiences.”
Senator Douglas McCrory: “Thank you, Connecticut, for listing to the concerns of parents and children who don’t have a voice like we do. I think all my colleagues from both sides of the aisle understood the urgency, and this was the easiest piece of legislation we ever passed with this amount of money.”
Senate President Martin Looney: “This has been a problem in our midst for years, but it’s become a point of such urgency due to the exacerbating effect of the pandemic. More families are struggling, desperate, and fearful for what it means for their children. This is our response.”
Rep. Linehan concluded her remarks with the words, “Today, to all the kids out there, we heard you, we are fighting for you, help is on the way.”