Brown Signs Bill to Close Mental Health Gap for California’s “Out-of-County” Foster Youth

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Monday that aims to resolve issues preventing kids placed in out-of-county foster homes from getting needed mental health treatment.

About one in five foster youth in California — or about 13,000 youth — are considered out of county, meaning they have been placed in a county other than the one where they first entered the state’s child welfare system.

Many out-of-county foster youth currently face lengthy delays or failures to receive needed mental health services due to the way the state’s mental health system is currently constituted. Under previous law, when a foster youth moved to a different county, responsibility for providing mental health services — and any related funding — remained with the county of origin and its network of service providers

Assembly Bill (AB) 1299 represents a compromise that will make it easier for the mental health money to follow a child through the foster care system. The bill had stalled last year before winning the support of the California State Association of Counties and the County Welfare Directors Association.

Introduced by State Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), AB 1299 requires the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to create clear policies to guide the transfer of responsibility for mental health services to a child’s county of residence.

The bill also compels the Department of Finance to establish a system to ensure that counties are fully reimbursed for providing mental health services, starting by July 1, 2017.

All California foster youth are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program. However, many foster youth require intensive mental health services to deal with significant histories of trauma. Specialty mental health services are organized separate from other medical services in the state.

The responsibility to approve and pay for mental health services for every child lies with the county. As a result, many out-of-county foster youth have been routinely left in limbo, waiting for much-needed mental health services that often take months to begin.

Co-sponsors of AB 1299 included the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, the Steinberg Institute and the Women’s Foundation of California.

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