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Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence

Representing the 14th District of Michigan

U.S. Rep. Lawrence and Sens. Blunt and Stabenow Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act

March 19, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Representative Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14), Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve access to mental health services for children in the foster care system. Their Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act would require states to provide an initial mental health screening to foster children within 30 days of entry into care. If a mental health issue is identified in the initial screening, states would be required to provide a comprehensive health assessment within 60 days. Yearly screenings are also required.

“Foster youth are five times more likely to suffer from trauma and PTSD, but many do not have access to the mental health care or support network they need. Now more than ever, Congress must step up as this pandemic has increased the challenges that children in foster care face,” said Rep. Lawrence. “I have extended family members who have experienced the foster care system, so this issue is very important and personal to me. I’m proud to work across the aisle and across the Capitol with Senator Blunt to introduce this much-needed mental health legislation and support our foster youth.”

“Children in foster care are much more likely to struggle with issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD,” said Sen. Blunt. “This bill recognizes the unique health challenges foster kids face and helps ensure they get the mental and behavioral health care they need. With data showing an alarming decline in outpatient mental health services for children across the country, this is a critical time to ensure that foster children do not fall through the cracks. The bipartisan, bicameral support for this bill demonstrates a shared commitment to making sure foster children have the support they need to live happy, healthy, successful lives. I hope all of our colleagues will join us in this effort.”

“I am committed to making sure children in foster care are provided the services they need, including behavioral health care. This bipartisan bill will expand mental health services for these children so they are given the support they need to succeed as they grow into adulthood,” said Sen. Stabenow, Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.

According to a 2015 Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General report, children in foster care experience a high rate of chronic medical, developmental, and mental health issues. Current law requires state child welfare agencies to meet certain health care needs of children and youth in foster care, including creation of a health care plan. This plan must include a schedule for screenings and assessments. Notably, the law does not specify required timeframes for performance of these services.

Timeframes vary, though about a fifth of states already require the screening to occur within 30 days. The Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act would create a national standard to ensure foster children have access to mental health screenings and follow-up assessments so they can get the care they need more quickly.