JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would make it possible for minors age 16 and 17 who live on their own to sign up for mental health care received support in a House Children and Families Committee hearing Tuesday.
HB 1288, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Pike, R-Adrian, would extend provisions that already allow such teens who are homeless or victims of domestic violence to obtain housing, a job, student loans, bank accounts, medical care and more. They would be able to obtain mental health care as well under Pike’s proposal.
Pike said this provision is important because many unaccompanied youth are at a difficult point in their lives and are struggling with their lack of connections to communities like schools or are experiencing some other crisis and often need short- or long-term mental health care.
“If (mental health care) can be added to their life, it will make the transition from unaccompanied youth to successful adult a much easier path,” Pike said.
Mary Chant, executive director of the Missouri Coalition of Children’s Agencies, said securing mental health services for homeless or unaccompanied youth is crucial to help children gain stability and build trust.
“Many youth, by the time they come to this point, haven’t had good connections, have had lots of difficulties with people who were supposed to care for them, who were supposed to protect them,” Chant said.
She said the outcomes for youth who need mental health services can be dire, and statistics support this. The U.S. rate of teen suicide is 10.5 per 100,000 teens ages 15 to 19, but Missouri’s rate of teen suicide is 14.9 per 100,000 teens as of 2019, according to the United Health Foundation.
She went on to explain that the bill is important because it clarifies that providers can give unaccompanied youth access to mental health services without liability fears.
“Even with the laws written, there are some providers who are reluctant to provide services because they are concerned that even if they do everything in good faith according to licensing standards and according to law, there are concerns about liability,” Chant said.
She said the bill would essentially be another tool to increase the number of providers for minors in need.
Three additional organizations testified in support of the bill, including FosterAdopt Connect, Kids Win Missouri and Great Circle.
No one testified against the bill.