DHCS virtual services platform aims to promote accessible behavioral health care for children and youth


Soraya Marashi


On July 6th, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) released a Request For Information (RFI), inviting prospective vendors to provide information to DHCS to help inform the planning, design, development, and launch of the Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform for the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI)


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According to DHCS, the CYBHI was established as part of the Budget Act of 2021, with a $4.4 billion investment, and is a “multi-year, multi-department package of investments” focused on “promoting social and emotional well-being, preventing behavioral health challenges, and providing equitable, appropriate, timely, and accessible services for emerging and existing behavioral health (mental health and substance use) needs for children and youth ages 0-25.”

DHCS told State of Reform that the Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform will provide free, app-based behavioral health services, including mental health and substance use disorder services, to children, youth, parents, and caregivers in California, regardless of insurance coverage. The platform will include interactive resources like educational materials, interactive games, and tools, designed to support regular automated assessments, screenings, and self-monitoring tools to build skills and enhance well-being for these individuals.

The platform will also support the delivery of equitable, appropriate and timely behavioral health services, like short-term counseling services, from prevention to treatment to recovery. The platform will also offer e-consult capability to give primary care providers and pediatricians an opportunity to consult with and learn from licensed behavioral health providers.

DHCS said the CYBHI and the Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform seeks to ensure that all children and youth, whether insured or uninsured, are routinely screened, supported, and served for emerging and existing behavioral health needs.

“Half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-fourths by age 25,” DHCS stated. “Historically the adolescent substance use disorder system in California has been under-resourced and under-scaled. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified already growing behavioral health issues for children and youth and addressing these needs is vital to California’s recovery. The platform is a population health model that will deliver and monitor behavioral health treatment so the most effective, least resource-intensive treatment is available statewide to young people who may not need individual counseling, but need help managing stress and building resilience.”

The department also highlighted how the CYBHI will also work to improve behavioral health equity by delivering and improving access to culturally relevant resources for historically underrepresented groups and those with a higher risk of behavioral health challenges such as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, tribal, and rural communities. 

When designing the implementation strategy for the virtual services platform, the department says it convened a group of experts with diversity in expertise and behavioral health experience (i.e. primary care, behavioral health providers, health plans, counties, and community-based organizations), as well as lived experience or expertise working with BIPOC, LGBTQ+, rural communities and other special populations.

Responses to the RFI are due on August 3rd. The initial launch of the virtual services platform is anticipated in January 2024.