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California Youth Mental Health Crisis Worsened by COVID-19 and Must Be Addressed

California Children’s Trust and it’s partner, Breaking Barriers, have released a “Practical Guide for Financing Social, Emotional and Mental Health in Schools”, designed to help education leaders and California access millions of dollars of Medi-Cal funding students are entitled to in order to support the social and emotional needs of our students, even more essential during COVID-19. The guide notes that less than half of California’s school districts currently participate in the LEA BOP program.1 The guide provides school leaders and California with models currently being used, and critical details and guidance on how to access services and supports California’s children need.

“We cannot underestimate the effect that this extraordinary time is having on our students. Our schools must teach and help children heal, now more than ever. This is an essential roadmap for school districts to capture Medi-Cal funds to finance more mental health services for our students.” —Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction


  • Even before COVID-19, there was a youth mental health crisis: children and youth ages 5-19 experienced a 52% increase in mental health hospitalizations.2 And suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24.3 And, the current global pandemic has created further anxiety and stress, as well and  exacerbating and deepening equity divides. 
  • Schools are at the heart of connecting with and healing children and youth, and critical to scaling any solution addressing the youth mental health crisis. Not only are schools in direct, regular communication with children and youth, but schools can explore creative financing strategies to support an expanded continuum of services. 
  • California could be much more effectively leveraging Medi-Cal to support the social and emotional needs of children and youth 
    • 96% of all children in California are enrolled in health care coverage with a defined mental health benefit, and 6 out of 10 are eligible for Medi-Cal, yet only  5% access any support despite mental health being by far the leading cause of poor health outcomes in children.
    • California is among the worst in the nation In school based claims for Medi-Cal, at $29 per child, while Montana generates over $500 per child. 


  • The California Children’s Trust  is a  statewide initiative formed in 2017 to reinvent our state’s approach to children’s social, emotional, and developmental health. 
    • Never before has it been more important to build a robust and coordinated system of social emotional and mental health supports for students. COVID-19 has accelerated and exacerbated equity gaps and widely exposed the need for youth mental health supports — and the limited structures school districts and its partners have in place to support and fund the services. “–Alex Briscoe, Principal, California Children’s Trust
  • Breaking Barriersis a collaborative of leaders from across child-serving systems throughout California who are united by the conviction that only through collaborative planning and problem solving can we ensure the educational, social, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing of California’s children and youth

After decades working with California families, school districts, educational leaders, and child serving agencies, we all agree much more can and must be done together to support the social and emotional needs of all of our students, especially now.  This guide is the culmination of a team of interdisciplinary experts to provide the “how to” the field has been seeking.” —Elizabeth Estes, JD, Founder of Breaking Barriers

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