Children’s mental health advocates from across the city gathered at the San Antonio Area Foundation on Tuesday to discuss successes from the 86th legislative session and how area providers can continue to capitalize on the momentum from legislation that aims to change how Texas approaches helping some of its most vulnerable residents.

Representatives from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to change the condition of mental health in Texas, led the conversation about bills that passed in the 86th session, letting organizations know what new funding has been made available and what new programs are in the works to improve mental health services across the state.

One of the most important bills, according to Michelle Harper, vice president for child and family policy with the MMHPI, was Senate Bill 11, which aims to strengthen mental health initiatives in schools, require classrooms to have access to a telephone or other electronic communication, and create teams that identify potentially dangerous students.

“In addition to adding additional services for children, the bill included the creation of a Texas Mental Health Consortium, which will bring together the big health institutions in the state to see how they can work to provide care to these children,” Harper said. “ The creation of the Children’s Psychiatry Access Network was part of that bill and aims to coordinate mental health treatment among providers to provide services to more young people at a quicker rate.”

A panel conversation about the legislation included representatives from North East Independent School District, Center for Health Care Services, and the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (SACADA). Panelists explained to more than 50 audience members how these initiatives will help to get early treatment to students.

SACADA CEO Abigail Moore said that only 10 percent of the people in Texas who need mental health treatment for drug and substance abuse get it. She said that House Bill 18, which passed in the legislative session, funds substance abuse prevention programs. 

“There will be dollars for substance abuse for parents so that their children can have a better chance of staying off drugs, and it will reduce risk factors in communities, increasing social-emotional learning opportunities, and improve anti-bullying initiatives,” Moore said.

There will also be a $30 million increase over two years for mental health provided in schools by Communities In Schools, which will also focus on drug abuse prevention and family therapy, Moore said. “This increase will allow the organization to see 3,000 more students in the next two school years.”

Center for Health Care Services vice president for external relations Allison Greer said what the organization is most optimistic about is the additional $24 million in funding from Texas Health and Human Services for pregnant women addicted to opioids and their children, who are often born addicted to opioids.

“In every realm of mental health treatment, legislators are finally seeing the importance of addressing these issues and serving these communities early on, before the problems are out of our control,” Greer said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.