Last Thursday, Texans Care for Children hosted a Mid-Session Legislative Update to inform community members and stakeholders of the bills and budget riders that have been filed with the 84th Texas Legislature. Josette Saxton, MSSW, serves as the Mental Health Policy Associate for Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit advocacy organization that seeks to promote state policies that address 5 key areas related to the wellbeing of children in Texas:
- Child protective services
- Juvenile justice
- Health and fitness
- Early childhood education and opportunities
- Mental wellness
Attending the meeting were representatives from various state and nonprofit agencies (e.g. Any Baby Can, Health & Human Services Commission, Head Start, and Juvenile Justice, the Child and Family Research Institute) as well as several students from the UT School of Social Work and UT School of Public Health. Josette Saxton provided a visual presentation and reviewed each of the bills and budget riders filed this session.
Here are some of the highlights:
Prevention & Early Intervention
- HB3372(Rep. Ronald Guitierrez – D.) offers women in Texas who are covered by Medicaid eligibility for screenings for postpartum depression up to 8 months after giving birth.
- The proposed Senate Budget Funding includes funding for the prevention and screening for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when fetal and neonatal addiction and withdrawal symptoms develop and occur due to a mother’s own addiction and dependence on drugs during pregnancy.
- HB1429(Rep. Susan King – R. & Rep. Cesar Blanco – D.) creates a grant program to support community-based mental health programs that support veterans with mental illness.
Safe & Supportive Schools
- SB518 (Sen. Carlos Uresti – D.) & HB3289 (Rep. Marsha Farney – R.)
- Both of these bills will require state and local coordinated school health efforts to include mental health in addition to physical health as part of their efforts to address the whole health of a child
- These bills request local school health advisory councils to consider the inclusion of topics such as:
- Recognition of signs and symptoms related to mental illness
- Mental health stigma
- Substance abuse
- Stress management
- SB1334 (Sen. Royce West – D.) requires schools that are determined to have taken disproportionate discretionary disciplinary action to submit and implement a remediation plan that includes positive behavioral interventions and supports, which may be developed in consultation with the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities.
- This bill also addresses the ways school create a discipline model for students with mental health concerns.
- Josette Saxton remarked that students of color and students identified as requiring special education are disproportionately targeted with discretionary disciplinary action, noting that 9 out of 10 Texas students who are identified as requiring special education have been removed from the classroom as a form of disciplinary action
- SB1548 (Sen. Eddie Lucio – D.) requires schools to provide functional behavioral assessments to students whose behavior interferes with their ability to learn and for the assessment to be used to develop individualized positive behavior interventions and supports and other strategies that enhance the students’ academic and social behavioral outcomes.
School Personnel Training
- HB2218 (Rep. Garnet Coleman – D.) & SB674 (Sen. Donna Campbell – R.)
- These bills require educator certification programs to include training regarding mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide.
- HB2220 (Rep. Garnet Coleman – D.) provides grants to local mental health authorities to offer mental health first aid training at no cost to school district employees (e.g. principals, assistant principals, educators, teacher’s aides, counselors, nurses, and school bus drivers) and school resource officers
- HB2684 (Rep. Helen Giddings – D.) requires school district peace officers and school
resource officers to complete education and training that includes issues related to:
- Child and adolescent development and psychology
- Positive behavioral interventions and supports; conflict resolution techniques, and restorative justice techniques
- De-escalation techniques and techniques for limiting the use of force, including the use of physical, mechanical, and chemical restraints
- Mental and behavioral health needs of children with disabilities or special needs
- Mental health crisis intervention
- Cultural competency
- HB2279 (Rep. Armando Walle – D.) requires law enforcement officers to receive education and training on techniques to facilitate interaction with children, adolescents, and teenagers, which includes training on:
- Youth development and psychology
- Positive behavior interventions and supports, conflict resolution techniques, and restorative justice techniques
- Children with disabilities or special needs, including mental or behavioral health needs
School Counselors & Mental Health Professionals
- HB313 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez – R.) requires school districts to employ a school counselor based on the following ratios:
- 1:350 for elementary schools
- 1:350 for middle / junior high schools
- 1:250 high schools
- HB729 (Rep. Eddie Lucio – D.) requires elementary, middle, and high schools to employ a school counselor based on the ratio of 1:300.
- HB730 (Rep. Eddie Lucio – D.) requires school counselor’s to spend no more than 10% of their total work time on non-counseling/guidance related duties.
- HB1424 (Rep. Ruth McClendon – D. & Rep. Joe Faris – D.)
- Allows for schools to hire psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, or school counselors to provide counseling and guidance services
- Ratio of 1:250 students
- Funded and paid for using the state alcohol tax revenue
Effective Services & Treatments
- HB2048 (Rep. Elliott Naishtat – D.) aims to preserve a System of Care framework in the state, which involves the collaborative efforts between state agencies to serve families with minors (age 17 and under) with complex and significant mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders
- State agencies include the Dept. of State Health Services, Dept. of Family and Protective Services, Texas Education Agency, Texas Juvenile Justice Dept., and the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments
- Aims to improve access to community-based services that are family-driven, youth or young adult guided, and culturally and linguistically competent
- HB1541 (Rep. Cindy Burkett – R. & Rep. Sylvester Turner – D.) provides Medicaid reimbursement for peer support services provided by certified peer specialists, including Certified Family Partners who are uniquely trained and qualified to assist families caring for children or youth with mental illnesses. Services peer specialists may provide include:
- One-on-one support
- Systems navigation
- Support group facilitation
- Transportation assistance
- Assistance in developing skills that promote independence in the community
- Assistance in locating community supports
- Monitoring progress toward’s achievement of person-centered plan
- Resource connection
- Staff, family, and community education
- Crisis intervention
- Coordination of appointments
- SB125 (Sen. Royce West – D. & Sen. Judith Zaffrini – D.) requires every child who enters the conservatorship of the state to receive a developmentally appropriate comprehensive assessment within 45 days, which includes a screening for trauma and interviews with individuals who have knowledge of the child’s needs.
- The House & Senate proposed budgets include funding for 20 additional Child Protective Services (CPS) Diversion Beds (Relinquishment Slots)
- Prior to the 83rd Legislative Session, if a family needed extensive mental health services for their child, they had to relinquish custody of the child to the conservatorship of the Dept. of Family and Protective Services in order for the child to be placed in a residential treatment center for services.
- SB44 created 10 diversion slots to provide intensive residential treatment to children without having parents relinquish custody for the sole purpose of obtaining mental health. This option gave parents both a voice & a choice in placement of their child in residential treatment.
- Due to extensive waitlist of families waiting for services, this budget proposal will increase the total number of slots to 30 for the entire state.
- The House & Senate budget proposals also include a continuation rider for the YES Waiver.
- The Youth Empowerment Services (YES) program of Medicaid allows for more flexibility in the funding of intensive community-based services and support for children with serious emotional disturbances and their families.
The Sunset Bills
- Background: The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission was established in 1977 and its members include appointees from the House (5), Senate (5), and two (2) public members who are responsible for reviewing the operation and efficiency of more than 150 state agencies. Most agencies undergo a Sunset review every 12 years. After research, review, and seeking public input, the commission adopts recommendations regarding how agencies may improve, including whether or not an agency should continue to exist or be “sunsetted.”
- The Texas Health and Human Services Commission was reviewed and the Sunset Review Documents, including their report and recommendations to the 84th Legislature have been published.
- Their recommendations include the consolidation of Texas’ 5 social service agencies and their advisory committees into one agency — the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) — with several divisions under the oversight of the an Executive Commissioner who is then responsible to a Legislative Oversight Committee.
- The agencies impacted by this recommendation are:
- The Department of Aging and Disability Services
- The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services
- The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services
- and the Human and Health Service Commission
- These 5 agencies were the consolidation of 12 agencies, which occurred in 2003 by HB2292, when the state was in the midst of a budget crisis
- SB220, a moderate partisan bill (Republican 4-1) includes provisions on the merging of all the agencies, while other separate Sunset bills have been filed that pertain to issues involving separate departments.
- SB200 requires the HHSC to create a master calendar that includes all advisory committee meetings across the health and human services system (This received a lot of support from attendees at the meeting.)
- SB200 also requires the HHSC to establish an Office of Policy and Performance to coordinate, develop, and implement performance systems and measures to ensure agency efficiency across all divisions within the HHSC (including access to the Internet in meeting rooms!).
- HB53, HB330, HB1205, HB1240, & SB104 are all bills relating to raising the age of criminal responsibility
- Currently, individuals who are 17 years old are considered adults and are not tried in juvenile courts
- SB1630 (Sen. John Whitmire – D.) & HB1586 (Rep. Ruth McClendon – R.) require efforts to be made to ensure children who are adjudicated are kept closer to home rather than in secure facilities operated by the state
There is A LOT going on at the Capitol and many bills that impact the health and wellbeing of children and their families in Texas, as well as the agencies that serve them. Stay up to date with Texans Care for Children through their blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.