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Governor Signs Bill to Create New 'System of Care' for Child Behavioral Health

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

New Hampshire is taking a step toward setting up a more coordinated system to help children with behavioral health needs.

On Monday, the governor signed into law a bill calling for a top-to-bottom review of what behavioral health services are available to kids in New Hampshire, how they’re delivered (in schools, in the community and elsewhere), and how to make sure separate agencies are working together to get kids the care they need. 

The law’s passage comes at a time when schools, in particular, are taking on an increasingly heavy load when it comes to addressing student mental health.

Under the new law, the Department of Health and Human Services is required to team up with the Department of Education to develop “a delivery system of behavioral health services across the lifespan of children, youth, and adults with behavioral health needs.” 

(For more on how many New Hampshire schools are serving as safety nets for the state's neediest students see NHPR's recent reporting.)

Together, the two departments will have to help local schools, community mental health providers and other agencies to coordinate more closely in the behavioral services they provide for kids.

Starting this year, the departments will have to put together a report on the costs of kids’ behavioral health services and proposed changes to set up a more coordinated “system of care.” And in the following years, the departments will also be required to report on a number of other issues related to kids’ mental health — like workforce shortfalls, or issues around public and private funding — and come up with plans to address any gaps that exist.

No state money is expected to be spent until fiscal year 2018, at which point the state is expected to spend about $180,000 each year through 2020 to cover the costs of two full-time staffers working on the new programs.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle hailed the bill as an important step forward for New Hampshire's approach to child mental health. These changes were also widely supported by the Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, which encompasses dozens of groups around New Hampshire who deal with mental health, drug use and children’s well-being.

“This legislation that became law today will close the gap in the continuum of care offered in our state, providing the specific needs of each child with appropriate community services,” said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, the bill’s sponsor and a Republican candidate for governor. “We must direct our time and attention to filling the gaps in care provided to our next generation of Granite Staters, and this law does just that.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, also praised the legislation.

“Ensuring that Granite Staters of all ages have access to behavioral health services and receive appropriate care is critical to the health and well-being of our families, our communities and our state,” Hassan said.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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