California launches audit of mental health services in schools

Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, requested a state audit of educational agencies to determine whether they are delivering enough treatment to children with serious mental illnesses. “Right now, we literally don’t have any results or information,” he said. (Hector Amezcua / The Sacramento Bee)

This article originally appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

California’s state auditor has launched an investigation of school districts and other local educational agencies to determine whether they are delivering enough treatment to children with serious mental illnesses.

In 2011, a change in law shifted responsibility for decisions about the mental health care of students with disabilities from counties to the schools.

Since then, families, advocates and child psychiatrists have charged that some of the state’s sickest children are struggling to get help. A story in The Sacramento Bee last year focused on these complaints, and on data showing significant drops in placements in residential treatment facilities since the law changed.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, chairman of the Senate’s mental health committee, requested the audit. He said nearly 80,000 children with disabilities had been receiving mental health services through the counties before the change in law. Now, due to a lack of data, it is no longer clear how many are being served, he said.

“Right now, we literally don’t have any results or information,” he said. “My job is to make sure these services are available to all the kids who need them.”

He said he expects to see results in December and may pursue legislation after that.

The state auditor will examine how well school districts and Special Education Local Plan Areas are fulfilling their responsibilities to treat children with mental illnesses, how they are spending the money designated for these services, and whether the state Department of Education is fulfilling its oversight role.

Critics of the change in law say there have been significant disparities in how well schools have followed through on their new obligations.

“If you really look under the hood, what you see is enormous variance,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of the Seneca Family of Agencies, which serves children with emotional disturbances in a dozen counties.

Randall Hagar, director of government relations for the California Psychiatric Association, said the audit is a first step toward creating a more accountable, transparent system.

“We’ve needed information to clarify how the state is doing and whether it’s doing right by its kids,” he said. “Once we get that data, we’ll be able to figure out what the next steps are and how to improve care where it needs to be improved.”

More Stories from This Project

California offers little for young people with mental health issues

This story originally appeared in the Ventura County Star.

Families of mentally ill children struggle for access to residential treatment

The first time Emily tried to kill herself, at age 15, she swallowed the entire contents of a bottle of Prozac, along with some Sudafed and Claritin she found in the medicine cabinet.

Hospitalizations way up for California’s youngest residents

In recent years, Dr. Jason Bynum has seen the churn: teens in crisis cycling through his south Sacramento psychiatric hospital, admitted, released, and just a few months down the road, back with another breakdown.

Comments

Other Articles

Stress case: What’s behind the increased demand for mental health counseling from SoCal college students?

On February 7, author Claudia Boyd-Barrett appeared on Southern California Public Radio's Air Talk with Larry Mantle to discuss her project about...

At some schools, mental health battle includes the Bible

This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. All kinds of colleges are dealing with unprecedented student demand for mental health...

California colleges, like USC, are in the midst of a mental health care crisis. Can help come fast enough?

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News. “Are you actually going to kill yourself?” Sociology Professor...
  • 1 of 254

Other Audio

© 2018 Center for Health Reporting

Login