The Senate Finance Committee convened for over 7 hours this past Tuesday to discuss and accept public testimony relating to the state’s mental health services. While the hearing was called to reevaluate mental health services generally, much of the conversation revolved around child mental health services specifically, especially the services offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC).
The TEA testified that they had awarded grants to fund mental health programs to all 20 of their regional service centers. Over the past 10 years students have felt on average more sad and hopeless in their lives and that more students have considered suicide, according to student survey data. The TEA cited these numbers as warning signs and acknowledged that these widespread mental health issues inevitably affect students’ ability to function in the classroom.
In response to this data, the TEA has hired more mental health professionals across the state, but the numbers of mental health professionals still aren’t at adequate student ratios for most classifications. For example, the Texas counselor to student ratio is 394:1, whereas the recommended ratio is 250:1.
The TEA did address the Uvalde shooting directly and cited increased efforts to spot warning signs, but the agency representative stated that the vast majority of those needing mental health resources are non-violent.
TCMHCC was founded by the legislature in 2019 partly in response to the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School to address youth mental health needs. Two of the primary services offered by TCMHCC are the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) and Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN).
TCHATT connects public school students with mental health professionals via phone and video meetings in order to assess the students’ behavioral and mental health needs and direct them to the appropriate mental health resources. TCHATT is administered by public school districts, and currently is available in 365 school districts, covering over 2.2 million students (or 42% of Texas public school students), according to TCMHCC.
CPAN offers training and consultation to primary care providers to help them identify and treat mental health issues in young patients. Pediatricians interested in receiving CPAN services can register with TCMHCC, and then are able to call CPAN whenever they require training or consultation.
TCMHCC Presiding Officer Dr. David Lakey testified that TCMHCC spends roughly $3,505 per campus per year on TCHATT resources. Dr. Lakey also testified that TCMHCC expects that TCHATT will be expanded so that all school districts who want access to TCHATT will be provided the service by September 2023.