Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health is ‘strategic’ way to address high rates of youth mental illness


Soraya Marashi


Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently-released Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health encompasses various efforts to help combat rising rates of mental illness and suicide, and low rates of mental health care service utilization among children in the state.


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The new plan incorporates the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative—implemented in 2021—along with additional investments in youth mental health.

The plan includes $4.7 billion overall for increased access to mental health and substance use treatment services for Californians aged 0-25, and adds career pathways and trainings for 40,000 more behavioral health professionals.

Newsom’s office cites several data points that illustrate the gravity of the youth behavioral health crisis in California. Over 284,000 children youth in California are currently experiencing major depression, 66% of these children with depression do not receive treatment, and suicide rates for children aged 10-18 increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020.

According to Newsom’s office, about 33% of 7th and 9th graders and 50% of 11th graders in California experienced chronic sadness in the 2020-2021 school year, and about 1 in 10 children between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year.

“Mental and behavioral health is one of the greatest challenges of our time. As other states take away resources to support kids’ mental health, California is doubling down with the most significant overhaul of our mental health system in state history,” Newsom said in his announcement of the plan. “We’re investing billions of dollars to ensure every California child has better access to comprehensive mental health and substance use services. The Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health is premised on a very simple belief: every single kid deserves to have their mental health supported. That’s the California Way – putting our kids first.”

Alex Briscoe, Principal at the California Children’s Trust, emphasized the significance of this plan.

“Our [behavioral health care system] is among the worst in the nation for children,” he said. “We’re like 48th in the nation in access to youth mental health care, 43rd in screening rates, and in the bottom third for health spending at $2,500 per child in Medicaid. We have the nation’s largest Medicaid program for children and by any standard measure among the worst.

Now, we have a fundamental commitment by the state for the first time to pursue reform at scale. Right now we have an unprecedented quality of leadership at the state level. We haven’t had this before, and they have stated publicly that we’ve got to change Medicaid … I think the Master Plan is a strategic and thoughtful attempt to integrate various reform initiatives [for kids’ mental health] at the state level, and those are CalAIM, [the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative], and [school-centered supports and interventions].”

The plan strives to rebuild mental health systems for youth in the state by creating a new virtual platform for digital mental health assessments and interventions, expanding early interventions so high-risk youth can get the care they need before their conditions worsen, increasing the number of counselors in schools, expanding the capacities of state mental health clinics and treatment slots, and developing a targeted suicide prevention program for high-risk youth.

The plan also adds new Medi-Cal services that support parent-child services to improve behavioral health, increase access to mental health services in schools, increase awareness of and decrease stigma toward mental health care, and create more resources for parents to better support their children’s behavioral health needs.