Panelists discuss the potential of the California Children & Youth Behavioral Health Initiative’s school-health partnerships


Soraya Marashi


According to a panel of experts who spoke at our 2022 Los Angeles State of Reform Health Policy Conference last week, the statewide Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI) will refocus the state’s youth behavioral health response on prevention and early intervention. These experts discussed key features of the CYBHI and how they believe these features will impact the behavioral health care system for youth in the state.


Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.



“Part of the reimagining of this ecosystem is [making it] more oriented toward prevention, early intervention, and positive mental health and well-being,” said Melissa Stafford Jones, Director of the CYBHI at the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS). “[The initiative] also recognizes the need to do a better job meeting the needs of our youth who have intensive, complex behavioral health needs, and how we work across that entire continuum. If we do not focus on prevention and early intervention, we will not have the capacity to do that.”

Stafford Jones emphasized the importance of partnerships between schools and health organizations to the CYBHI, saying the initiative will focus on building the capacity of those partnerships.

Lucy Marrero, Director of Behavioral Health and Social Programs at Gold Coast Health Plan, also highlighted the benefits of health plans partnering with schools for the launch of things like wellness centers on campus, where students can seek refuge, build skills and relationships, and get referrals to services as needed.

Marrero said one of the primary benefits of health plans partnering with schools is the schools’ ability to leverage their multi-year relationships with students and families in the community.

“This is an asset in our community where trust is inherent,” she said. “We hear about families who don’t want to go outside of school because they trust [the school]—they don’t want to be referred to another provider.”

Alex Briscoe, Principal at the California Children’s Trust, said he believes that schools need to become as central to California’s health systems as hospitals and doctor’s offices, but noted that partnerships between schools and health institutions are often challenging as the cultures and laws of these institutions differ greatly.

Hossam Mahmoud, Regional Chief Medical Officer at Beacon Health Options, commented on the CYBHI’s virtual care emphasis and its efforts to expand California’s behavioral health workforce capacity. 

“[Before and during] the pandemic, we were talking about telehealth solutions as a way to gain access to care,” he said. “Unfortunately, we got swept up in this notion of telehealth being a replication of in-person care. While there was evidence that telehealth was helping with the capacity to some degree, especially in underserved areas, the benefits were plateauing because we weren’t gaining providers or expanding the workforce per se.”

Stafford Jones added that, along with expanding support for children and youth, CalHHS would be looking to scale the different kinds of support for the families of these children and youth as well. She cited focus groups where youth discussed how important it is to also support their families. 

She highlighted additional investments made in the most recent state budget to address these needs, including investing more in parent support programs and a set of parent videos with a strong focus on cultural competency to meet the diverse needs of California’s diverse families.  

She said addressing the needs of families is a critical aspect of creating an intentional, 2-generational approach to improving access to behavioral health support, and emphasized the importance of including this whole family approach when developing youth behavioral health initiatives.