On Sunday, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1299 (Ridley-Thomas), “Medi-Cal Specialty Mental Health Services for Foster Youth,” into law. This represents a significant turning point in the delivery of mental health services to foster youth in California: “out-of-county” will no longer mean “out-of-luck.” The passage of AB 1299 also demonstrates what’s possible when advocates, providers, administrators, and legislators collaborate to break down barriers to care for children and youth.
The “out-of-county” problem has plagued the children’s mental health system in California for nearly two decades–leaving as many as 13,000 of the state’s most vulnerable youth without equal access to the mental health care they need. AB 1299 eliminates a key barrier to mental health care for these youth: the law shifts responsibility for providing or arranging for specialty mental health services under Medi-Cal from the county where a foster youth entered care to the county where the child resides. The law also ensures that Medi-Cal funding will follow the child so that any net change in costs to each county will be reimbursed through the regular Realignment process. Finally, the law allows for exceptions to the transfer of responsibility in order to assure continuity of care or improve child welfare outcomes.
The passage of AB 1299 represents years of advocacy by Young Minds and our dedicated allies. Foster youth who are sent to out-of-county often have the greatest mental health needs, and until now, the least access to services. Eliminating this barrier to mental health care will improve the lives of thousands of youth. It is also a demonstration of what can be accomplished when children’s stakeholders are united and insistent that mental health policies and programs must meet the needs of the children they are intended to serve, not the needs of “the system.”
We applaud Governor Brown for prioritizing the wellness of foster youth and signing this legislation into law, as well as Secretary Dooley and Assemblymember Ridley-Thomas for providing the leadership that got this bill to his desk. We also want to thank our partners and supporters who provided testimony, sent in letters of support, and tirelessly worked to secure consensus on every detail of the bill. This is an epic win–for foster youth and their allies–and it proves that when the stakeholder community works together, we can change systems for the better and improve young people’s lives.
But the important work isn’t done. (There’s always a next step, right?) In order for AB 1299 to work, it has to be successfully turned into practice. This will require continued collaboration and commitment by stakeholders to develop regulations and monitor implementation. We also need to ensure equal access to mental health services among California’s counties, so that services in the Central Valley are every bit as accessible and intensive as services on the Coast. We hope that you will join Young Minds Advocacy in seeing these efforts through. If you haven’t already, please sign up to join our list of supporters to stay up to date on this issue and others that impact youth in your community.