Senate approves DiMario bill to strengthen early childhood mental health services


STATE HOUSE — The Senate today voted to approve legislation from Sen. Alana M. DiMario to establish a pilot program to train specialized mental health professionals to address the needs of young children and their families.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

“Mental health interventions for young children can have a tremendous impact in terms of preventing issues later in life,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), who works as a licensed mental health counselor in private practice. “However, treatment for children who are very young looks very different than treatment for older children. We didn’t want to start mandating these services without knowing that we had an adequate provider workforce to do this specialized work. By building out our workforce of providers who are well-trained in evidence-based practices that relate specifically to children six and under, we’re taking an important step towards a system that adequately addresses the mental health needs of our youngest children and their families.”

The bill (2024-S 2608) would create a five-year early childhood mental health hub pilot program within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. This hub’s primary function would be to train and support infant and early childhood mental health professionals in the latest evidence-based diagnostic techniques and therapies.

“The Economic Progress Institute applauds this bill, which would establish an Early Childhood Mental Health Hub to build capacity for providing evidence-based and culturally responsive therapies to screen, evaluate and treat mental health challenges in young Rhode Island children,” said EPI Executive Director Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Esq. “The number of young children enrolled in Medicaid presenting with serious emotional disturbances has grown from 12% in 2017 to 20% in 2022, according to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. These challenges are interfering with our children’s daily activities and limiting their opportunities to thrive. EPI especially appreciates the leadership and perspective of Senator DiMario, who as a licensed mental health counselor, has much expertise in this discussion.”

The hub would use the needs outlined in the Rhode Island Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Plan to set early priorities for the program.



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