System of Care Legislature Takes a Giant Step

Senate Bill 534, the major policy initiative of the Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, sponsored by Senator Jeanie Forrester, has passed two legislative milestones. On February 11, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted that the bill “ought to pass.”

Then on March 3, the full Senate passed the bill. Both were moments that all Collaborative members can celebrate. The legislation next proceeds to House committees for approval. The bill requires New Hampshire to build a coordinated statewide service system for youth with mental health challenges. The system would address structural barriers and improve outcomes for New Hampshire youth, leading to decreases in behavioral problems, suicide rates, substance use, and juvenile justice involvement.

Senate Bill 534 commits the state to establishing a “system of care” – a system with a coordinated delivery structure for youth receiving publicly funded behavioral health services. The bill requires the commissioners of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to utilize system of care practices to the extent possible within existing resources. Further, the bill requires the commissioners develop plans for full implementation of a system of care over the next four years. At the February hearing, a number of state agencies and statewide organizations voiced support of the legislation, including Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers and Mary Steady for the Department of Education. Mary is Administrator, Office of Student Wellness at DOE and chair of the Collaborative steering committee.

“Our future prosperity depends on our ability to foster the well-being of New Hampshire’s next generation,” said Senator Forrester, the bill’s lead sponsor. “We know that children’s behavioral health is fundamental to their overall welfare. This bill is a first step toward a coordinated system designed to make the best use of available resources to get the best possible results, while giving youth and their families a voice in their care.”

Thanks to all who registered their support. The Collaborative will keep members informed of what advocacy is needed as the bill goes through its legislative process.