Keynote: Melissa Stafford Jones, Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative


Eli Kirshbaum


It was a pleasure to have Melissa Stafford Jones, director of California’s innovative Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, deliver the Opening Keynote at the 2023 Northern California State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month. The initiative, launched in 2021, aims to reimagine the behavioral healthcare system for California’s youth to promote early intervention, reduce gaps in equity, and address the behavioral health crisis impacting many Californian children.

Stafford Jones provided an overview of what the initiative will look like over the next few years and how it’s integrated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health. She also discussed the takeaways from the initiative’s Youth at the Center report, released earlier this year.

“It’s not a matter of just doing more of what we’re already doing. That is not sufficient. We actually have to change what we’re doing to create a better system, and we’re trying to reimagine, what is that better system? And the work of the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative is to create a more coordinated ecosystem of services and supports for the well-being and behavioral health of youth.”

Through the engagement the state has done with youth in California, some of the main feedback the initiative has received so far is that children don’t feel heard by adults when it comes to behavioral health concerns, and that they could greatly benefit from more open environments where they feel like they can freely share their experiences and offer their feedback for improving the system.

Following her remarks, Stafford Jones engaged in an informative discussion with conference host and Health Management Associates Managing Principal Margaret Tatar.

You can watch the full video above.