Policy UpdatesHouse Select Committee on Youth Health & Safety

House Select Committee on Youth Health & Safety

SUMMARY – During his invited testimony, President and CEO Andy Keller, PhD, discussed the dramatic increase in mental health needs and pediatric ER visits resulting from suicide attempts and answered questions from committee members.

In mid-September 2021, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan created the House Select Committee on Youth Health & Safety, tasked with improving the coordination of mental health services, education, juvenile justice, and family and protective services for Texas youth.

On October 4, 2021, Dr. Keller served as the first invited witness for the new committee.

He cited the fact that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, children who showed signs of mental illness didn’t get the care they needed until 8-10 years later. The culprit is a system that is not currently focused on detecting needs early.

He also cited an increase in suicides during the pandemic and said mental illness in general skyrocketed.

“When we look across the board in Texas and the United States, we know that because of the pandemic, 340% as many people as before the pandemic reported signs of functional impairment from depression. With functional impairment from anxiety disorders, those numbers peaked around four times during the pandemic.”

Dr. Keller discussed the importance of the Collaborative Care Model, which became part of the state’s Medicaid system thanks to legislation passed in the 87th Legislative Session, in detecting and treating conditions like depression and anxiety.

He also described multisystemic therapy (MST) as the best evidence-based practice for youth in the justice system.

“What multisystemic therapy does is it gets them and an adult in their extended family who could be there for them and puts the resources around them to be successful. It has over 20 years of research behind it and it works 60% of the time. In fact, the only time it doesn’t work well is when we cannot find an adult to be in that youth’s life, which unfortunately we can’t sometimes.”

Legislators asked about the availability of MST across the state, and Dr. Keller talked about the recent expansion of MST teams in Harris County and El Paso County.