New Legislation to Improve Mental Health Services for Children


Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Children Now have announced legislation aimed at improving the mental health of children who have experienced childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect, and community violence.


The bill would establish a four-year pilot program to assist elementary schools in providing mental health services to students, prioritizing schools in communities with high levels of childhood trauma and adversity.


“Childhood trauma can have a devastating and lasting impact not only on our children but also on our families and our communities. The evidence is clear that when we don’t intervene, many children are more likely to be either victims or perpetrators of crime,” said Attorney General Harris.


“This legislation will connect our most vulnerable children with the support they need and is a smart investment in the health and safety of our state,” she said.


Assembly Bill 1644 will help schools and communities address the extensive impacts of childhood trauma, which can result in negative educational, health, social, and economic outcomes for children across the state.


Left unaddressed, exposure to childhood trauma can have devastating effects on children’s developing brains and leave children less ready to learn and more likely to exhibit anxiety, withdrawal, and aggressive behavior in school. Providing trauma-informed interventions, including mental health supports, are critical to promoting healthy childhood development and addressing the root causes of crime.


“I’m excited to author AB 1644 with the support of Attorney General Harris and a stellar group of advocates in order to provide children suffering from trauma with the healing they need to survive and thrive,” said Bonta.


“ A child’s exposure to trauma is one of the greatest public health threats of our time, seriously compromising a child’s long-term physical and emotional wellbeing.”


AB 1644 builds upon the former Early Mental Health Initiative (EMHI), a highly successful evidence-based program aimed at helping elementary school students experiencing difficulty in adjusting to a school setting. EMHI awarded matching grants to local schools to fund prevention and intervention programs from 1992 to 2012, before the program was defunded in 2012.


Over 75 percent of children who completed the EMHI program showed an improvement in learning behaviors, attendance, school adjustment, or school-related competencies.


AB 1644 would provide schools that have continued to offer EMHI services with technical assistance to strengthen and expand existing programs, while also expanding EMHI services to more schools, particularly those serving students who have experienced high levels of childhood trauma and adversity.


“Childhood trauma is a public health crisis that can impede emotional well-being, diminish kids’ school performance and set children up for a lifetime of problems,” said Children Now President Ted Lempert. “This bill would help kids exposed to trauma reach their full potential by helping schools provide quality mental health supports to their youngest students.”


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