The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health has designated May 6th-12th as national Children’s Mental Health Awareness week. The goal of this week is to help raise awareness of the special concerns of children with mental health needs and to encourage engagement of young people and their families in mental health treatment and policy. In support of this goal states across the country are hosting events and promoting mental health and wellness in children. In Massachusetts, free weekly workshops are being held this month on a variety of children’s mental health topics, and a broadcast celebrating the week aired on local news networks. Down in Tennessee, the Whole Kid Festival in Nashville brought together families, agencies serving families, and vendors to provide information, entertainment and activities for the whole family promoting mental wellness and health in children. Other states around the country have coordinated awareness events and campaigns promoting children’s mental health occurring throughout the week.

Despite increasing awareness of mental health issues in children, one population that continues to be disproportionately affected is children in the foster care system. Studies suggest that between 50 to 60 percent of children in foster care have moderate to severe mental health problems. Additionally, foster youth who have aged out of the system have been found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate twice that of U.S. war veterans. To have such a significant percentage of this population suffering from mental health conditions means that there is a clear need for effective, accessible mental health care services for youth in the foster care system and those who exit the system.

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act aim to continue foster youth’s access to health services, including mental health services, beyond their exit from the foster care system. The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid coverage to former foster youth up to age 26, thus providing continuity of care and access to health care services. This expansion will enable youth exiting the foster care system to continue to receive critical health care services to promote positive physical and mental health and wellbeing.

As health and child wellness advocates work with states to prepare for this expanded coverage, it’s important to have events like Children’s Mental Health Awareness week to remind policy makers and the public about how important these services are to children.

— Nicole Tambouret, Project Director and Kyle Bogaert, Intern, New England Alliance for Children’s Health