Home Health State Rep. Jennifer Leeper (opinion): Children’s mental health must be a top priority

State Rep. Jennifer Leeper (opinion): Children’s mental health must be a top priority

State Rep. Jennifer Leeper (opinion): Children’s mental health must be a top priority


As the weather begins to warm, and life has largely returned to “normal” following our long, collective COVID journey, we must turn our attention to the areas that the pandemic exposed as needing attention and reform. For me, as a mom, there is nothing more important than making sure our kids are alright. And right now, we know our children have never needed us more. I, along with so many others, worry about the state of our children’s mental and behavioral health system.

Time is our greatest gift and, in many ways, COVID robbed us all of time and all the memories we expected to make with our families. All of us continue to grieve the many losses — big and small — that we endured during this pandemic. It forced us to be more isolated, led to sickness and death of friends and family, and kept us from experiencing so many of the things that bring our lives meaning and joy.

For our children, who have a harder time understanding these losses, these experiences have left scars that we must now help them navigate and find ways to heal. Throughout this pandemic, we have asked a great deal from our educators and school systems, and our kids will continue to need their additional care, guidance, and support. We will never be who we were before the pandemic, but we have a unique opportunity to leverage what we have learned to fix what was not working before the pandemic.

During the summer of 2020, I organized Youth Policy Advisory Committees with Fairfield students from high schoolers through recent college graduates. Through that work, students identified three priority areas for the legislature to work on: education, the environment and mental health. Thankfully, they did not believe that needing mental health support was stigmatized. However, they did worry that there were not adequate resources available to them when they did need it. Two years into a global pandemic — with unprecedented disruption, isolation and anxiety — the need for mental and behavioral health support and care has only grown more acute with additional demand on already limited resources.

This session, the legislature is committed to strengthening our youth mental and behavioral health care system and is working in a bipartisan fashion on legislation that dovetails with the $160 million investment that Gov. Lamont proposed in his budget. Our legislation seeks to address the entire spectrum of care and delivery pipeline. HB-5001 recruits more students into the mental and behavioral health fields with student loan forgiveness. It helps health care facilities retain their highly specialized staff, which are in high demand across the country, with retention bonuses.

This legislation helps fund the expansion of mental and behavioral health professionals in schools to ensure children are receiving the care they need where they need it. No one should be denied the critical care they need, and this proposal ensures that insurance companies must cover mental health services. All of these investments and more to ensure we are doing everything we can for our children’s well-being now and long into the future.

This work carries over into our educational system, and will support the many important efforts currently underway in Fairfield schools. While being academically rigorous is extremely important, preparing our children to have the robust skills to problem solve, navigate the unexpected, and face challenges is equally important to their future success and personal fulfillment. With the passage of this legislation, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to center mental health as the foundational building block to our children’s well-being.

Following this pandemic, we should not be returning to the status quo when it comes to care for our children. These investments in our mental and behavior health are imperative to ensuring that the students I worked with in 2020, during the very early stage of the pandemic, do not have to worry about whether there is support available to them when they need it. Seeking help is hard enough, there should not be barriers to entry to get care because of lack of resources. I am committed to passing this legislation because our children deserve it.

State Rep. Jennifer Leeper represents the 132nd District, in Fairfield.


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