Children’s mental health is likely to be the focus of CT lawmakers this year

Mental health support for children may be a theme in committees dealing with children’s issues this session, a continuation of the work lawmakers began last session with the passage of three sweeping laws focused on children’s mental health. children.

Both the education and children’s committees plan to focus on mental health, as well as other issues, including increased support for educators and the prevention of sex crimes against children, leaders and advocates said last week. of the committee.

“I can’t imagine a time when children’s mental health won’t be the focus,” said MP Liz Linehan, a Cheshire Democrat and co-chair of the children’s committee. “We will focus entirely on helping children become happy and productive members of society.”

The continued focus on mental health comes as many young people across the country are dealing with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

Isolation and routine disruptions during the pandemic have exacerbated many existing mental health problems for children, and in 2021 the US Surgeon General issued an advisory about a national youth mental health crisis.

A December 2022 report by the Task Force to Study Comprehensive Needs of Children in the State also discussed the need for more mental health care for people of all ages, including more support for children experiencing trauma and more places where people can access health care.

Lawmakers called mental health the defining issue of the last session, and the conversation is expanding beyond students, as lawmakers want to emphasize educators themselves and how to curb the onset of stress and burnout and address a growing teaching shortage. is accentuated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t do any education work unless we have teachers in the classroom,” said Rep. Kathleen McCarty, a Waterford Republican who serves as a ranking member on the Education Committee. “We know that in this past pandemic, we’ve really placed a lot of new responsibility on our teachers to look at social, emotional, and academic remedial practices. There were more and more responsibilities placed on teachers and they went through tremendous stress and anxiety trying to meet these needs.

In a joint news conference on Tuesday, lawmakers and members of the Connecticut Education Association discussed the importance of making education a more attractive profession, which begins with allocating funds to raise salaries and provide better retirement options in hopes to diversify the field, they said.

“Specifically in those communities of color… [students] they’re seeing their teachers stressed out to the max about everything they’re asked to do,” said Rep. Jeff Currey, co-chair of the education committee and East Hartford Democrat. “So why, in any world, would they want to do that? … It makes absolutely no sense. So if we can get the additional resources to relieve some of their pressure, we hope to see other people who want to try their hand at that profession.

Similarly, several CEA members argued that while financial investment is a priority, so is providing classroom solutions, including giving educators more preparation time, reducing class sizes, and providing mentoring opportunities for educators. young teachers.

“We have the opportunity to be creative and to make positive, proactive changes in education,” said CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey. “This is an investment that goes to support the needs of children.”

While many committees kicked off the session with organizational meetings that contained little action items, the Legislative Committee on Children kicked off the session on Tuesday by voting to work on nearly 20 measures with details to be filled in as the session progresses.

Ideas and details in the bills will go through the public hearing process, Linehan said.

Republicans on the committee opposed that method of passing bills, saying they didn’t have enough detail to vote on an idea.

“I think we need to be a little more thrifty with what we’re doing in terms of cost and effectiveness,” said Congresswoman Anne Dauphinais, a Killingly Republican and a leading member of the Children’s Committee. Dauphinais added that she hopes to examine parental rights in this session.

The Children’s Committee’s leadership plans to address issues ranging from authorizing municipal summer camps to the safe storage of cannabis to creating a state police task force focused on online child sexual abuse.

The committee approved four bills that broadly address children’s programs, safety, health, and services. They also voted to draft a commission bill “affecting the mental, physical and emotional well-being of children.”

“We’re going in and getting started,” Linehan said in an interview.

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