U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s Legislation to Improve Mental Health Services for Children, Families Passes Senate with Broad Bipartisan Support

For Immediate Release:
September 23, 2020

Katie McElrath

WASHINGTON, D.C. [9/23/20]–U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s (D-Minn.) priorities to make sure the child welfare system supports and connects families to mental health services recently passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support. The Supporting Family Mental Health in CAPTA Act would improve the delivery of mental health services for children and families, connect families with needed support services, support research on effective practices to prevent child abuse and neglect and address disparities in the child welfare system. 

Sen. Smith says that young people experience mental health conditions about as often as adults—about 1 in 5 struggle with severe mental health problems—but they often have a hard time getting services.

“All children deserve safe, stable and nurturing relationships and living environments. But too often, I hear from Minnesotans who are worried about the mental health challenges and trauma that children and families are facing,” said Sen. Smith. “If we don’t address the trauma that some families and children are going through right now, then the cycle could continue through adulthood and to future generations. When we connect families to the local services they need and we really work to support parents, families are stronger and children can get a better start in life.” 

“NAMI Minnesota thanks Senator Smith for her advocacy to increase access to mental health and substance use treatment in order to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to recognize that children in child protection need access to mental health treatment. Adverse childhood experiences have a negative impact on the health and mental health of children and increased access to evidence-based and evidence-informed care will mitigate the impact.” Sue Abderholden, MPH, Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota 

“The American Psychological Association commends Senator Tina Smith for advancing legislation, unanimously passed by the Senate, to address the mental health needs of children and families who come into contact with the child welfare system. Her bill updates the landmark federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and makes much-needed improvements in light of the high percentage of children with mental health issues in foster care. This includes the delivery of trauma-focused mental health services and developmental screenings. APA calls on the House to enact the bill without delay.” —Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association

Sen. Smith’s measures will:

Improve state grants for child welfare programs and child protective services

  • Improve training on early childhood, child, and adolescent development and the impact of child abuse and neglect, and the long-term impacts of adverse childhood experiences
  • Improve coordination between child welfare services and health care providers, including working with families with mental health needs and substance use disorders and those experiencing domestic violence

 Strengthen community-based grants for child abuse and neglect prevention

  • Meaningfully partner with parents in the development, implementation, oversight, and evaluation of prevention services
  • Connect families to community-based organizations and service providers, and support long-term strategic planning to help strengthen and support families
  • Reduce barriers to access to community-based and prevention-focused programs, including for diverse, underserved, and at-risk populations

Enhance research and technical assistance programs at the Department of Health and Human Services

  • Improve collaboration between the child protection system and other agencies, including the juvenile justice system and entities that deliver services and treatment related to domestic violence, substance use disorders, and mental health
  • Identify evidence-based programs that prevent child abuse and neglect in families that have not had contact with the child welfare system
  • Methods to address and reduce geographic, racial and cultural disparities in the child welfare system 

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) governs important child protection programs and services to prevent, assess, and identify child abuse and neglect—and it is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to these aims.  

This legislation is supported by the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, the American Counseling Association and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.