HHS awarding $27 million to enhance mental healthcare for children

Oct. 4, 2022

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is announcing awards of nearly $27 million to improve and expand mental health care for children. This funding will offer timely mental health support to children and adolescents by training pediatricians and other children’s health care providers in treating mental health conditions and by providing tele-consultation to bring mental health expert support directly to pediatric primary care providers.

“President Biden has made strengthening the nation’s mental health a top priority, and, with this funding, we’re taking new steps to deliver,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the American Rescue Plan, we are doubling down to invest in strengthening children’s mental health services in hospitals and schools. Our children are our future and they deserve expanded access to care.”

  “There should be no wrong door when it comes to children accessing the vital mental health services they need.  For that to happen, we need to support pediatricians and other health care providers in recognizing and treating mental health conditions – that is what today’s investments are about,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. "This work is critical not only to ensuring timely access to care, but also to expanding the reach of the mental health workforce.”

This announcement is part of HHS’ ongoing efforts to support President Joe Biden’s whole-of-government strategy to transform mental health services for all Americans—a key part of the President’s Unity Agenda that is reflected in the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Following the President’s State of the Union in March, Secretary Becerra kicked off the HHS National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health to address the mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including substance use, youth mental health, and suicide. Since kicking off the tour, Secretary Becerra and HHS leaders have been traveling across the country to hear directly from Americans about the mental health challenges they’re facing and engage with local leaders to strengthen the mental health and crisis care system in our communities.

The nation is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis, particularly among children. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were on the rise, with up to one in five children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. The pandemic only exacerbated these issues, with increased isolation and disrupted learning, relationships, and routines. More than 40 percent of high school students - PDF struggle with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Funding to grow the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program was included in both President Biden’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the American Rescue Plan.  In addition, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act expanded the reach of the program to allow grantees to serve emergency departments and schools in addition to pediatricians.

Through the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program, pediatric primary care providers consult virtually with pediatric mental health specialists to better diagnose, treat and, when necessary, refer children and youth to services for mental health conditions. The program supports a range of pediatric primary care providers, including pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.  Thanks to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the program also can now support school-based health providers and emergency department providers who often are on the frontlines when children are in need.

Forty-eight Pediatric Mental Health Access Program awardees will each receive $300,000 from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a down-payment on expansion. Three national organizations also will receive a total of $3.2 million to provide technical assistance to grantees to expand and improve behavioral health services in pediatric practices, schools and emergency departments, including the School-Based Health Alliance, the University of Texas to support emergency department programs, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, new programs will be launched with multi-year American Rescue Plan funding totaling nearly $9 million.

HRSA's Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program is part of HHS' ongoing efforts to support the Biden-Harris Administration's whole-of-government strategy to transform mental health services for all.

HHS release