Governor Pritzker Signs Legislation to Expand and Protect Children’s Mental Health Care

Bills focus on youth in foster care through targeted task forces

Governor JB Pritzker today signed two pieces of legislation into law intended to expand and improve access to children’s mental health services, particularly for children in foster care. SB3889 forms a Children’s Mental Health Council to research and recommend legislative action for children with mental and behavioral disabilities, particularly around residential placement needs. HB4306 amends the Children and Family Services Act to require all youth in foster care be assigned a mental health provider to perform well-being assessments and forms the Holistic Mental Health Care for Youth in Care Task Force.

“We know the pandemic further exacerbated the mental health challenges our young people were already facing and it is time we take action,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The Holistic Mental Health Care for Youth in Care Task Force will work to create policies based in real-world, lived experiences to better support our foster youth. To ensure we can also have an immediate impact, each child in foster care will be paired with a mental health professional, so they receive the compassion, investment, and advocacy that they need and deserve. There is nothing more important than caring for our young people and I am proud to sign these two bills into law.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that up to 80 percent of children in foster care have significant mental health issues, creating a pressing need for treatment and services for this population. These pieces of legislation create a system to observe and recommend treatment needs and monitor placement needs. HB4306 requires that at least one member of the task force be a former youth in care to ensure the lived experiences and needs of children in care are recognized.

The Children’s Mental Health Council will provide recommendations on how to expand bed numbers and mental health provider numbers to ensure children have access to the supports they need. This council will provide recommendations not only to the Department of Children and Family Services, but to the Department of Juvenile Justice, the State Board of Education, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and any other agency that has a role in the process of placing a child in care or treatment.

The Holistic Mental Health Care for Youth in Care Task Force will assess capacity levels for mental healthcare providers serving children in care and review payment rates and recruitment to ensure retention of providers, particularly providers of color who serve the diverse population of children in care.

Governor Pritzker’s administration has prioritized mental health care infrastructure and access throughout the last three and a half year. In 2021, Governor Pritzker signed legislation requiring medically necessary mental healthcare be covered by insurance, as well as legislation creating a first responder system to respond to 911 calls that stem from a mental health crisis. Earlier this year, Governor Pritzker launched the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative to coordinate responses between state agencies in order to better support children in need of mental and behavioral health services.

“With low residential placements for children with behavioral and mental disabilities, children are often left staying in the emergency room or at home where their safety could be at risk,” said State Senator Loughran Cappel (D-Shorewood). “This new law will give the council an opportunity to address the difficulties that so many individuals and their families are facing around the state.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic increased exposure of stress and trauma that contributed to skyrocketing rates of mental health problems among children – especially those within the foster care system,” said State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest). “It’s vital we tackle the alarming rates of mental health problems in ways that are less invasive by providing greater healing-centered care. I firmly believe that’s how you create sustainable, scalable change in the lives of children.”

“Children in the foster care system need comprehensive and holistic mental health services from the moment they enter the system, and while there are some services in place there is more that needs to be done,” stated State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora). “This is why the creation of the Holistic Mental Health Care for our Youth in Care Taskforce is so important to work on solutions to meet the mental health needs of our foster children.  Youth who need foster support often go through difficult experiences without the supports they need.  This taskforce will provide solutions and recommendations, in addition to identifying barriers to care that the youth in foster care need.”

“This essential legislation helps the state effectively meet the emergency and residential placements for children with severe mental and behavioral challenges,” said State Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Joliet). “By providing these young people with the care they need, we’re helping them live the safe, healthy and full lives they deserve.”