On Wednesday President Obama released, Now is the Time, his plan to protect children by reducing gun violence. The plan includes four key provisions:
- Closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands;
- Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence;
- Making schools safer; and
- Increasing access to mental health services.
Over the years, CWLA has expressed support for closing loopholes and requiring background checks for potential firearm owners; reasonable efforts to require licensing and registration; and stronger laws and tougher enforcement of current laws to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children. We are particularly delighted that the President has taken the conversation a step further to recognize the long over-due need for safer schools and increased access to mental health services.
The plan specifically mentions the need for enhancing physical security but also preventing school violence in the first place. Acknowledging that each school is different, the plan includes the need for granting schools flexibility to address their most pressing needs. One proposed program would give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors.
Despite the fact that three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. Therefore, the President and his Administration are calling for:
- Increased funding for mental health treatment for youth as well as training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults, including how to encourage adolescents and families experiencing these problems to seek treatment;
- $25 million for innovative state-based strategies supporting young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues;
- $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies; and
- $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals, including funding to provide stipends and tuition reimbursement to train more than 5,000 mental health professionals serving young people in our schools and communities;
Finally, the President’s proposal commits to finalizing and issuing regulations that will ensure that insurance plans cover mental health benefits at parity with other benefits. This will also include clarifying that state health officials must comply with mental health parity requirements within their respective Medicaid programs.