Group of pediatricians standing on a bridge with hills and a lake in the background

Our Top Priorities for the 2023 Legislative Session

At WCAAP’s September board retreat in Chelan, Washington, the board of trustees voted to approve the legislative agenda proposed for the 2023 session by the WCAAP legislative committee. The top priorities were informed by our annual member survey, insights from the steering committees of our Child Health Improvement Partnership, the state’s Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group, as well as statewide coalitions and community organizations. We are excited about the opportunities to partner with strong child and family advocates, legislative champions, and state agencies, and we look forward to sharing more information as we get closer to the beginning of the 2023 session.

Address the kids & teens behavioral health crisis:

Kids and teens are suffering and our health care system – at every point along the care continuum – is not able to meet their needs. We risk long term impacts to their health, and ongoing stress on the adult behavioral health care system as these children grow up, unless we take meaningful steps now.

Our asks:

  • Open care coordination codes on Medicaid so that primary care clinics can coordinate care for kids with behavioral health concerns. (WCAAP is currently analyzing these codes to determine which are most appropriate).
  • Provide funding to PAL and the Washington Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens to:
    • Provide First Approach Skills Training (FAST) for primary care-based therapists, and some community mental health center-based therapists.
      • FAST programs are designed to provide brief, evidence-based behavioral therapy for youth and families with common mental health concerns, in settings such as primary care clinics or schools where longer-term treatment is not typically provided. Learn more about FAST here.
    • Continue developing FAST materials for language and cultural sensitivity.
    • Increase the Referral Service’s FTE to meet rising demands and prevent long wait lists for families.
    • Expand PAL training for clinics/primary care providers in diagnostics and psychopharmacology.
    • Support psychiatrists’ time to consult with a limited number of primary care clinics one hour a week, including caseload reviews for clinics.
  • Invest in the behavioral health workforce by increasing payment rates for outpatient therapy across settings and offering loan repayment for existing behavioral health professionals and grant opportunities to aspiring behavioral health care professionals.
  • Support families with children with developmental disabilities to reduce likelihood of them landing in emergency departments. WCAAP is working closely with DD Ombuds and children’s hospitals on solutions such as respite or crisis alternatives to emergency care.

Support families with concrete needs that adversely impact health and well-being:

One in 6 children in Washington State faces hunger, and in some parts of our state the rate is as high as 1 in 4. (Northwest Harvest) Children who eat school meals consume a healthier diet overall than those who do not, and eating breakfast at school is associated with better attendance and better test scores. (CDC) (No Kid Hungry) Providing free school meals for all children is a proven way to eliminate barriers and stigma for children to get the food they need for healthy growth and development. (No Kid Hungry, Hopkins) The American Academy of Pediatrics supports healthy school meals for all students, regardless of income eligibility, to ensure no children go hungry and to eliminate both the cost barrier to struggling families who do not currently qualify, and the stigma associated with free meals.  (Source)

Our ask: Provide free school meals for all children in Washington.

Ensure our system of juvenile justice is appropriate to kids’ development:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (2020) recommends legislation that establishes a minimum age of (at least) 12- years-old for criminal responsibility under which a person may not be charged with a crime.

Incarceration can cause harm and rather than serve a deterrent effect, can actually increase the likelihood of future offenses. (National Juvenile Justice Network). Young children who are arrested are held in County jails for periods of time where they experience bullying by older children or adults that has a tremendous adverse impact on their mental and physical health. There is tremendous county-by-county variation in arrests and court referrals.  For example, Benton county with a population of 14,450 children ages 8-12 in 2019 had 108 arrests (7.5/1000 children 8-12) and 131 court referrals of children 8-12 while King County with a population of 127,960 children of the same age group in 2019 had only 59 arrests ( 0.5/1000 children 8-12) and 55 court referrals.

Our ask: Pass “Raise the Age” legislation.

  • Increase the juvenile court jurisdiction to 19 years of age
    • Increases the maximum age of presumed incapacity to commit a crime to 13
    • Require charges filed in juvenile court to remain in juvenile court
    • Allow juveniles committed at age 18 to serve their sentences in a juvenile facility through age 22, and those committed at age 19 to serve in a juvenile facility through age 21.

Help us advance our goals for 2023!

Join us at Advocacy Day in Olympia on January 23, 2023.