Texas AFT: Senate Finance Committee hears testimony on state mental health services

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Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC) President Dr. David Lakey testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on the status of the consortium.

The Senate Finance Committee met for more than 7 hours last Tuesday to discuss and accept public testimony relating to state mental health services. While the hearing was convened to reassess mental health services in general, much of the conversation revolved specifically around children’s mental health services, particularly services offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC).

The TEA testified that it provided grants to fund mental health programs at all of its 20 regional service centers. Over the past 10 years, college students on average felt sadder and hopeless about their lives and more college students considered suicide, according to data from a student survey. The TEA cited these numbers as warning signs and acknowledged that these widespread mental health issues inevitably affect students’ ability to function in the classroom.

In response to this data, the TEA has hired more mental health professionals across the state, but the number of mental health professionals is still not at adequate student ratios for most classifications. For example, the Texas counselor-to-student ratio is 394:1, while the recommended ratio is 250:1.

The TEA directly addressed the Uvalde shooting and cited increased efforts to spot warning signs, but the agency’s representative said the vast majority of those in need of mental health resources are non-violent. .

The TCMHCC was founded by the Legislature in 2019 in part in response to the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting to address the mental health needs of young people. Two of the main services offered by the TCMHCC are the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) and the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN).

TCHATT connects public school students with mental health professionals via phone and video meetings to assess students’ behavioral and mental health needs and refer them to appropriate mental health resources. TCHATT is administered by public school districts and is currently available in 365 school districts, covering more than 2.2 million students (or 42% of Texas public school students), according to TCMHCC.

PRC provides training and consultation to primary care providers to help them identify and treat mental health issues in young patients. Pediatricians interested in receiving services from CPAN can register with the TCMHCC and then can call CPAN whenever they need training or consultation.

TCMHCC President Dr. David Lakey testified that the TCMHCC spends approximately $3,505 per campus per year on TCHATT resources. Dr. Lakey also testified that the TCMHCC expects TCHATT to be expanded so that all school districts that want to access TCHATT will receive the service by September 2023.

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