May 9, 2021
State Senator James Maroney (D-Milford) voted in favor of a bill that is one of the Senate’s highest priorities this legislative session, aimed at vastly improving social equity around the state with a specific focus on benefitting children’s health, safety and education. This bill aims to improve and adopt new practices throughout a child’s life, from enhancing the state’s focus and emphasis on youth mental health to providing long-term access to educational practices first enacted due to the extreme pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Death by suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 24, and for Asian American youth it is the leading cause of death for young adults between the ages of 15 and 24,” said Sen. Maroney. “The real tragedy; death by suicide is preventable. This bill is a step towards protecting the mental health of our children and preventing mothers and fathers from losing their baby.”
Senate Bill 2, “An Act Concerning Social Equity and the Health, Safety and Education of Children,” makes various changes to laws affecting children and pupils through the Departments of Children and Families, Education, Public Health and Office of Early Childhood, in addition to local and regional boards of education, including:
- Requires the Youth Suicide Advisory Board and the Office of the Child Advocate to jointly administer an evidence-based youth suicide prevention training program in each district health department, to be offered at least once every three years beginning in July 2022. The training program operates under a “train-the-trainer” model, where designees of public health departments will be advised on how to train others on suicide prevention in addition to learning how themselves, providing widespread help at a low cost. The programs can be taught to employees of local health departments, youth service bureaus and school employees, as well as employees and volunteers of youth-serving organizations, youth athletic activities, social service agencies, fire departments and police departments.
- Physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, registered and licensed practical nurses, nurse aides, behavior analysts, certified community health workers and emergency medical staff will be required to take two hours of training and education on suicide prevention and conditions such as PTSD, suicide risk, depression and grief when applying for or renewing a license.
- Current law requires a mental health provider to gain consent from the parent or guardian of a minor receiving outpatient mental health treatment after six sessions, which can have a chilling effect on engagement in mental health care for minors. The bill removes that restriction, allowing minors to receive outpatient mental health treatment indefinitely without requiring consent, unless that disclosure will benefit the minor, the treatment does not involve substance use disorder, and the minor is given an opportunity to object to such disclosure.
- Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, boards of education will need to adopt social-emotional learning, which focuses on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making in teacher professional development. These standards have been shown to reduce student anxiety levels and behavior problems, improve students’ social and emotional skills as well as their academic performance, and lead to long-term improvements in students’ overall performance.
- Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, school districts will be required to offer remote parent-teacher conferences by telephone or video; conduct additional parent-teacher conferences during periods of virtual learning; and request an emergency contact person for planning and scheduling of virtual parent-teacher conferences.
- By December 2021, the Department of Education must develop and annually update a document providing information on educational, safety, mental health and food insecurity resources and programs available for students and families. This will be made available electronically.
- The Department of Education’s commissioner will be required to develop standards for virtual learning, with virtual learning authorized in high schools beginning in 2021-22 if boards meet those developed standards and adopt policies on student attendance requirements, which would count attendance of any student participating in at least half of a virtual learning day.
- Students will not be counted “absent” when attending school virtually or taking mental health wellness days
- Beginning in 2021-22, any student can take up to four mental health wellness days during the school year.
- Beginning in 2021-22, schools must prohibit publicly identifying or shaming a child for unpaid meal charges by delaying or refusing their service, designating specific meals for them or disciplining them. The child would also have a right to purchase one meal per day and boards of education would also have procedures to communicate/collect unpaid meal charges. Boards could also accept gifts, donations or grants from any source to pay off unpaid meal charges. Families accruing significant debt can be referred to local services like food pantries, free and reduced meal applications and others as needed.
- The Department of Children and Families must ensure children in care and custody receive visits from parents and siblings unless ordered by a court. In the event of a pandemic or outbreak, those visits must be allowed to occur by telephone, virtually or other platforms if in-person visitation is barred. It also allows a policy to stop in-person visitation on a case-by-case basis if a child or their relative is seriously ill and a visit could lead to that disease being contracted.
- The Department of Children and Families must develop and maintain an application for reporting nonemergency incidents and for children in DCF care to communicate with their social worker.
- After receiving a complaint of neglect or abuse of a child, the Department of Children and Families will provide parents with notice of rights clarifying their right to have an attorney at any meeting pertaining to the child’s removal and a list of free or low-cost legal services.
- Birth-to-Three services for children will no longer carry parent fees.
- A board of education providing special education to a pupil has certain practices necessary; service providers can now attend and make recommendations in a meeting about a child’s Birth-To-Three individualized transition plan.
- Birth-To-Three service coordinators and qualified personnel cannot be disciplined for discussing or making recommendations about special education and related services for a child during a planning and placement team meeting.
- Any child enrolled in Birth-To-Three turning three on or after May 1 and not later than the first day of the next school year is eligible for participation in a summer preschool program until their enrollment in a preschool program during the school year.
- Families whose children age out of Birth-to-Three but do not qualify for Part B will be encouraged to take online assessments to track developmental and social-emotional delays in partnership with local or regional boards of education.
- Boards of education must have school readiness liaisons in place by the 2022 school year.
- A 25-member task force to study children’s needs in Connecticut will be developed, focused on children’s needs to be healthy, learn in safe environments, be actively engaged in learning, have access to personalized learning and to be challenged academically.
This press release was produced by CGA. The views expressed here are the author’s own.