Advocacy Update: Children’s Mental Health

Stacy Tarango, MD, FAAP
Trustee, WCAAP

On January 24th, I traveled from Spokane to Olympia for the WCAAP’s Children’s Mental Health Forum. Our team of pediatricians in psychiatric, emergency, and primary care shared stories with legislators so that they can partner with us to improve mental and behavioral health care in our communities.

Pediatric psychiatrists updated us on mental health needs across Washington. I described how 10% of the children in our emergency department present for behavioral and psychiatric concerns. Primary care pediatricians explained how integrating mental health professionals into their clinics has revolutionized care. In these clinics, families receive resources and establish a relationship with a therapist immediately rather than waiting for a lengthy referral process only to have their child refuse to get in the car for a counseling appointment or to end up in the emergency department.

Legislators were visibly moved when a 14-year-old, her grandmother, and their therapist shared their family’s story of healing. This teenager told senators and representatives about growing up in a home marked by abuse and addiction. She shared how her experience of counseling was changing her life and she proudly told us about her straight-As, her athletic teams, and her many friendships. As she shared her story and as legislators lauded her bravery and resilience, she stood more confidently. She found her voice. Over that hour, she grew from quiet teen going by her middle name to a young woman agreeing to testify to the entire legislature and asking to be part of the group photo.

This legislative session, the WCAAP is advocating to increase resources for pediatric mental health by providing behavioral health care in primary care clinic and school settings, expanding the Partnership Access Line (PAL), increasing availability of partial hospitalization, and increasing Medicaid reimbursement to Medicare rates so that children and their families can receive the care they need. Our Children’s Mental Health Forum was a tremendously encouraging step forward in caring for the children and families of Washington state.