California legislature advances preschool mental health services bill

Assemblymember Blanca Rubio’s bill to provide mental health services to preschool age children continues to progress through the Senate.

The bill would provide mental health consultation services to children up to the age of 5 in preschool programs or in a general child care and development program. The cost of providing these services would be reimbursable under certain conditions. The mental health consultation services would include

  • Support to respond effectively to all children, with a focus on young children with disabilities, challenging behaviors, and other special needs.
  • Assistance through individual site consultations, provision of resources, formulation of training plans, referrals, and other methods that address the unique needs of programs and providers.
  • Aid to providers in developing the skills and tools needed to be successful as they support the development and early learning of all children, including observing environments, facilitating the development of action plans, and supporting site implementation of those plans.
  • The development of strategies for addressing prevalent child mental health concerns, including internalizing problems, such as appearing withdrawn, and externalizing problems, such as exhibiting challenging behaviors.
  • If a child exhibits persistent and serious challenging behaviors, support with the pursuit and documentation of reasonable steps to maintain the child’s safe participation in the program.

In addition to supporting children and teachers, the goal of the program is also to reduce preschool expulsions. Assemblymember Rubio introduced a bill last session to reduce preschool expulsions, which was signed by the governor.

The Assembly unanimously passed the bill at the end of May. The bill also passed unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Education and has been referred to the Committee on Human Services.

Assemblymember Rubio explained the need for the bill in committee hearing documents:

“This bill will benefit children in the California State Preschool Program, and infants and toddlers in general child care and development programs, by increasing access to critical early childhood mental health consultation services. The bill authorizes providers to utilize existing subsidized child care funds to provide these valuable services, which research shows can improve outcomes for children and help prevent expulsions. Recent data shows expulsion occurs frequently in preschool program across the United States. Nationally, three and four-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K are expelled 3.2 times more frequently than K-12 students, while California’s Pre-K expulsion rates are even higher than the national average. Furthermore, Pre-K expulsion disproportionately affects children of color. Recent studies show that African American children are twice as likely to be expelled as any other group. Additionally, Latino and white children face expulsion rates of over twice the national average for k-12. In this manner, children are “pushed out” of Pre-K at a time when their need for support is crucial. Children expelled from Pre-k are ten times more likely to be expelled from K-12.

Early child mental health consultation models provide important supports for effective classroom management and positive learning environments, including supportive teacher practices and strategies for supporting children with challenging behaviors and other social emotional and mental health concerns. Research shows these models can play an important role in addressing challenging behaviors and can yield positive social and emotional outcomes for children, including reducing preschool expulsions.”

The bill has received support from First 5 California, Think Together, Children’s Defense Fund, Kidango, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.