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Network Convenes Youth-Led Meetings with Two Legislative Offices to Discuss Teen Mental Health

To kickstart the new year, youth advocates from the PA Youth Advocacy Network organized two virtual meetings with representatives to discuss bills they sponsored related to teen mental health.

Youth advocates from across Pennsylvania met with Kate Samuelson of Sen. Bob Casey Jr.'s office to discuss current and future legislative action involving teen mental health and asked pointedly how they can be involved in the legislative process and make an impact.

The meeting was scheduled at an opportune time as the 118th Congress reflects on accomplishments including: The Bi-Partisan Safer Communities Act, of which nearly $11B is allocated to certified community health clinics to increase access to affordable mental health treatment services; and the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which includes $2.8B in block grants focusing on mental health for children and people in marginalized communities. In the 117th Congress, Senator Casey also introduced the RISE Act (Respond, Innovate, Support, and Empower Students with Disabilities Act), which amends the Higher Education Act to clarify the documentation used in K-12 education to receive special education or accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1983, and the Individuals with Disabilities Act, among other types of documentation, is sufficient to demonstrate an individual has a disability in the context of higher education; and the Healthcare Capacity for Pediatric Mental Health Act of 2022, which establishes programs to support pediatric mental, emotional, behavioral, and substance use disorder services in underserved and other high-need areas by awarding funding to children's hospitals and other facilities providing pediatric care.

Samuelson encouraged youth to create a clear vision and communicate what is important to them, including what programs and services they're seeing and not seeing in their communities and schools; to speak up when bills impacting with youth mental health are introduced; and to follow up when allocations are made to express if and how they are impacting the community; and to speak up and advocate for organizations in their communities that are doing great work so they are considered when funding is available.

During the group's meeting with state Sen. Schwank, the teen working group whose focus has been around mental health days asked how they could be active in decision-making at the state level and help advance the Senator's legislation – Senate Bill 506 to amend the Public School Code of 1949, further providing for excuses from attending school.

She advised the advocates that ways they can get involved is by advocating to get legislation to the floor by writing letters, gathering petitions, and to be ready to present if a hearing on mental health legislation comes to the floor, even in cases that are intertwined with mental health, such as school violence. She also encouraged them to go to their school board when bills are presented to talk about the legislation or about funding that is available to impact mental health services.

"I do tend to believe, as most of you do, that mental health is health care," Sen. Schwank said. "I think that most schools are enlightened enough now about the issues you face as students that it would be unthinkable for them to penalize a student for receiving mental health treatment in some way."

The teen working group looks forward to growing a coalition of support, organizing youth voices, and meeting with additional leaders in the legislature.

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