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In this episode, co-host Messellech Looby chats with Academy Award-nominated actor Taraji P. Henson about the complexities and opportunities around supporting Black youth in the midst of the country’s current mental health crisis. Henson created The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in memory of her late father, who struggled with mental health challenges after returning from the Vietnam War. The foundation promotes mental health awareness and destigmatizing mental illness within the Black community by uplifting culturally relevant mental health support. The foundation’s Executive Director, Tracie Jade, joins the conversation to discuss its efforts to promote mental health awareness and support within marginalized communities.

Learn more about the youth mental health crisis: 

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Send us comments on thoughts via email:

Find us on Twitter/X: @SpeakingOfKids, @BruceLesley and @First_Focus

Want to be a voice for kids? Become an Ambassador for Children here

To support our work and this podcast, please consider donating to First Focus on Children here.


Selley Looby 0:03
So we have exciting guests today.

Bruce Lesley 0:04
So true Hollywood comes home to Washington DC

Selley Looby 0:08
Taraji P. Henson is here to talk about the foundation established in her father’s name.

Bruce Lesley 0:13
The Boris L. Henson Foundation was created in 2018 to destigmatize mental health within the black community

Selley Looby 0:19
Taraji and her Executive Director Tracie Jade are coming up in just a bit.

Bruce Lesley 0:29
From First Focus on Children, this is Speaking of Kids, I’m Bruce Lesley,

Selley Looby 0:32
and I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And at first focus, we’re trying to do our part to highlight this important issue as it relates to children and families,

Bruce Lesley 0:53
the data on children and their mental health crisis is pretty profound. We talked about as being a crisis, and what we’re seeing is that one in six us youth aged six to 17, experiencing mental health disorder each year, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 14.

Selley Looby 1:11
Yeah, I mean, these stats are staggering. And, you know, the rise of smartphones and overprotective parents. And, you know, overall, the rewiring of children is really all lending itself to a really large mental health crisis across the country. The

Bruce Lesley 1:30
COVID crisis exacerbated this problem, in addition to exactly as you said, the use of smartphones and those kinds of things have really created a crisis among kids that as a nation, we really need to address.

Selley Looby 1:44
And what I love about our guests today, Taraji and Tracie through the important work that they’re doing through the foundation, is they’re really elevating the issue and the impact of mental health as it relates to black children and families. You know, because we know that a lot of times the issues that are just out there, when overlaid with race, and just the state of the country in the history of this country, it can be difficult. And so I’m very excited to get into the conversation today.

Bruce Lesley 2:13
And one of the great things I think also about them is they really get the interrelatedness of all of this. And so, if you’re having a healthcare crisis, or mental health crisis, then your education is going to suffer. And it causes this sort of cascading effect in your life, they’ve really emphasize things like the effects of poverty on these kinds of things as well. So I’m really excited, you know, they have a very good sense of sort of the whole needs of children and, and how that affects the kids mental health.

Selley Looby 2:45
Absolutely, Bruce, we’ve been working on the cross issues of kids and mental health is one of the newer issues that have emerged for us. And I think we see it and it’s so pronounced, because we work on the cross. And what I love about the work Tracie and Taraji are doing both through direct service and through advocacy, are really starting through a prevention lens, you know, getting kids in middle school in high school. And you know, I think, eventually the goal is to even get kids younger and younger, through, you know, outlets like meditation, yoga, positive affirmations, these are all tools that we can teach kids and young adults to really think about their mental health in a different way. And I think through education, hopefully, you know, we’ll start to see a shift. But as you know, we pointed out earlier, there’s so many different competing factors going on that kids nowadays just have to process and deal with through social media through, you know, technology in general, we haven’t even seen what AI is gonna bring to the table.

Bruce Lesley 3:47
The issues that they’re tackling are really important because they get that coverage matters. But even for kids who have coverage for adolescents, often insurance doesn’t necessarily provide the access to care and the services that kids need. And that’s one of the things their foundation is really addressing and so, look forward to hearing your conversation with them. Yeah,

Selley Looby 4:10
it was a great conversation, very eye opening.

Bruce Lesley 4:18
Coming up, we have Academy Award nominated actor, producer and author Taraji P. Henson. Joining us to discuss the foundation she created to improve mental health outcomes for children in the black community. We can

Taraji P. Henson 4:31
tell them all about arithmetic and how you read and the ABCs and one two threes, but when it comes to their mental wellness, it’s like it’s something that is an add on, you know, something that could be considered an elective, right? If it’s even elected,

Selley Looby 4:49
stick around.

Leila Nimatallah 4:57
Making the world a better place for all children. and can seem like an impossibly huge task. Some of you may be thinking, I’m just one person, what could I possibly do to make a difference? I’m Leila Nimatallah, Vice President of Advocacy and Mobilization at First Focus on Children. And I’m inviting you to join us and become one of our volunteer advocates, whom we call our ambassadors for children. Ambassadors are our most active child advocates who raise critical issues with the US Congress, and with the administration related to child policy and funding decisions, both for kids in the US and worldwide. But don’t take my word for it. We asked one of our ambassadors to share her experience.

Amy Jo Hutchison 5:47
My name is Amy Jo Hutchison. I’m a born and raised West Virginian who also happens to be an economic justice organizer. And I’m the founder of a grassroots movement here, rattle the windows. What drew me to the ambassador program at First Focus on Children was my lived experience of poverty as a mother to living in one of the poorest states in the nation, advocating for children and poverty is very personal to me. A lot of people see numbers when they look at data and reports. But when I see new findings and reports on child poverty, I see my kids and I see their friends, our neighbors, and the people who I interact with every day. And I trust First Focus on Children. I have personally stepped into spaces that they’ve created for parents like me to be heard. What would I tell someone thinking about becoming an ambassador with First Focus on Children? Well, first of all, very few with any huge shifts in the way our country addresses economic justice issues have taken place without grassroot involvement. First Focus on Children has created an entry point for people like me to get involved with this ambassador program. It’s an easily accessible way for us to become engaged and formed and to turn our pain into power. I really hope you’ll join them.

Leila Nimatallah 7:00
So please join us won’t you check out campaign for backslash ambassadors, on how to become a First Focus on Children Ambassador and to link up with our fabulous community.

Bruce Lesley 7:20
First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

Selley Looby 7:28
First Focus moves beyond individual issues to serve a more important role child advocacy. We educate lawmakers and the American public about the issues facing children.

Bruce Lesley 7:38
To learn more about our work in ways that you can become an ambassador go to first

Selley Looby 7:44
Coming up on state of play, Bruce and I get into some of the statistics around mental health outcomes and the state of mental health as it relates to children.

Taraji P. Henson is an Academy Award nominated actor, producer, author and mental health advocate. She was most recently seen in the Award winning musical adaptation of The Color Purple, for which she won an NAACP Image Award and received a Screen Actors Guild and sambal nomination. Taraji created the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation which exists to both normalize and improve access to mental health services for black communities in hopes of eradicating the stigma around seeking support and help.

Bruce Lesley 8:33
Tracie Jade is the executive director of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, spearheading initiatives to promote mental health awareness and support within marginalized communities. With a diverse background spanning Theatre, Television Production and education. She serves as the co host and executive producer of the acclaimed peace of mind with Taraji on Facebook watch, a three time Emmy nominated series dedicated to D stigmatizing mental health challenges.

Selley Looby 9:03
Welcome Taraji. And Tracie, thank you so much for being here on Speaking of Kids,

Tracie Jade 9:09
thank you. Thanks for having us.

Selley Looby 9:11
So it is May its mental health awareness month Taraji. Congratulations on recently being named one of this year’s very well mind 25 honoree it’s an award as you know, given to champions of mental health and wellness. Thank you so much. You’re welcome. Taraji, can you share a little bit about the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, and a little bit about your dad and what drew you to create this foundation?

Taraji P. Henson 9:37
My dad was a Vietnam vet and you know, I just don’t know who goes away to war and come back regular and normal and fine. So he had his issues and he was very vocal about them. I noticed how hard it was for him to get the help he needed. You know, with the medical industry here and for black people and it’s Certainly for vets, it’s really hard when they come back. And so later on in life, carrying that with me and all that information and watching my father’s struggle, I ran into my own struggles, mental health struggles and time for me and my son to get some help. And it was hard. And I called my best friend Tracie, who joined us live in this podcast and who also runs the foundation. And we got to the brass tacks of what the issues were and you know, for obvious reasons, we don’t talk about it at home, and where are the resources for underserved communities? So I felt compelled to do something about it, both Tracie and I. And that’s how we started the Borssele intensive foundation. So out of my own necessity, honestly, yeah,

Selley Looby 10:45
which is oftentimes what we see. There’s a need and the need to fill it. Yeah. Tracie, can you share a little bit more about what drew you to this mission? Yeah,

Tracie Jade 10:54
well, as Taraji mentioned, I, you know, suffer or have been challenged with mental health issues myself my whole life, I was diagnosed at the age of 13, with an anxiety disorder. And we had no idea what that meant. And our family. Again, there weren’t any resources to go any further, Mom and Dad did the best they could. And so I sort of had to manage that through my adulthood until I was able to do a little more research around it, and figuring out why I was having these episodes that was literally crippling. And so you know, this work is very personal for both me and Taraji, she witnessed my sort of dealing with these challenges. And then, as she mentioned, ran into her own, we were taking this journey together, and it’s a never ending story. It’s not, you know, well, we healed something because we started a foundation and, you know, offering the services, we’re still learning ourselves about our own diagnosis and, and how to sort of manage the anxiety and depression as we move through life.

Selley Looby 12:07
Absolutely. I mean, mental health is something that I wish we can almost get away from the term mental health and just frame it as health, because it’s something that if you’re living life, and you’re on this journey, chances are you’re going to face something that requires you to talk to somebody to receive medication to get some level of services. And we know for for black children in particular, and for black youth and black families. stigma around mental health, accessing mental health supports, compared to their peers is not always the same. To Roger, we can start with you and then move over to Tracie, what do you see as some of the unique challenges that black children face in dealing with mental health?

Taraji P. Henson 12:50
Number one is racism, that still exists, they may not see it right out and understand what it is, but micro aggressions that happen. You know, I remember micro aggressions as early as kindergarten. You know, I didn’t know what to say about them until later, I didn’t know where to put them. Because you know, you’re a child. And you don’t know about these things yet. So that’s a number one, everything stems from that, how we’re left out in the medical field in these conversations. It’s all stems from that right there. And everything else falls under that.

Tracie Jade 13:25
And my opinion, and I would just add to that, that a lot of it is also being misdiagnosed. Yeah, there are a lot of, you know, black children who aren’t labeled problem children or, you know, they’re sent to the office as opposed to the social worker or the psychologists, they’re not given assessments to sort of measure where they are in terms of their mental health. It’s a behavioral problem. It’s not a mental health issue or crisis.

Taraji P. Henson 13:54
Yeah, that itself stems from racism. Why can’t our children be seen like other children? When they’re in need? They’re not seen as well? What’s wrong with this child? You know, because children, they want to please, all humans have issues, right. But for the most part, children want to please they live for You did a good job, you know, so when they’re not doing a good job, nine times out of 10. They’re asking for help. They’re reaching out for help. And all we care about is Why won’t this child be quiet? Where is their homework? No one’s trying to get to the why are we hear? Why is this child acting out? And our children are never regarded in that way. Like Tracie said, they’re sent to them or oftentimes now what we’re seeing is the law is being called on children. Yeah,

Selley Looby 14:42
exactly. And unfortunately, it’s something that you see as early as preschool and kindergarten right with some of the issues that you outlined and it just escalates from there. And to that point, you know, we know between 2007 and 2017 over the span of time years, the suicide rate for black children nearly doubled. And suicide attempts are rising faster among black youth than any other racial or ethnic group. When it comes to cultural factors within the black community that influence attitudes towards mental health, how do you both think we can leverage and promote mental health among black children to really address and combat some of these alarming statistics? Tracie, we can start with you if you’d like. Mental

Tracie Jade 15:32
health and wellness should be a foundational part of curriculum, and classroom experiences, so that children learn in early development as their wiring processes and understandings about behaviors and relationships. As that development is happening. They should be offered the educational tools, what does this word mean? How do I describe how I’m feeling? What do I do with what I’m feeling, we can tell them all about arithmetic and how you read and the ABCs and one, two threes. But when it comes to their mental wellness, it’s like it’s something that is an add on, you know, something that could be considered an elective, right? If it’s even elected. And so we think it as the organization that mental wellness needs to be a mandate in schools, you can’t depend on the families at home, who are dealing and facing their own traumas, right? And so they’re not going to be able to support the child, perhaps the child can model, what it looks like to speak on what you’re feeling, or ask for help. So it’s definitely not enough emphasis put on wellness in schools. Again, it’s sort of like a sideshow, you get it or you don’t, it absolutely should be a part of the science curriculum in every single school. And we

Taraji P. Henson 17:01
need more than just one therapist in schools to handle all of these kids. We need clinicians and psychiatrists on hand in schools right there, especially when you get to the inner city schools.

Tracie Jade 17:13
And there never be enough, right? We’re doing at the foundation as much as we can by giving scholarships to folk who are interested in becoming therapists who can practice cultural humility. But if you think about the millions who have the challenges that black people in particular face, there will never be enough. So we also need to consider other modalities. How can we teach children’s self regulation? How can we, you know, expose them to yoga and different forms of taking care of themselves, as we’re waiting for somebody to become available for that therapy appointment?

Taraji P. Henson 17:52
Absolutely. That’s where we started with our partnership with Kate Spade, and we started erecting these respite pods on HBCU campuses. This is something that we need to start as early as preschool, kindergarten, that’s our plan to have these respite centers on the corner on every corner in every major city on all corners. But until we get there, like Tracie said, we’re just doing the best we can and chipping away we can do. That

Selley Looby 18:17
was beautiful. And I think you both underscored this is another component when dealing with black children, children of color families, is the cultural competency in terms of the services that are being received. And oftentimes, what we see in all in several federal programs that we advocate for is, there’s a lot that gets lost in translation, when you don’t understand the cultural aspects of different communities. What is the foundation doing to combat that?

Tracie Jade 18:47
Well, we have several things that we’re doing actually, we have a cultural humility training that we’re offering to schools across the country, anybody can pick it up not only the educators, but the parents, as well as the students just to understand what it even means to be culturally sensitive, or to have cultural humility in the space. So building cultures around differences, questioning as opposed to judging, learning more about other cultures so that there is an empathetic approach to how you speak to handle move around different cultures. We also have something called the unspoken curriculum, and that specifically deals with discrimination and biases in schools. And so how does a student advocate for himself or a parent for his or her child? We’re trying to teach people to really wrap their hands around this and know that there are biases that you cannot see. These are behaviors that are wired through this lens of racism and discrimination and bias that occur without being addressed. You have a classroom and there a certain percentage of Caucasian students and black students If you keep seeing Johnny, who’s the black students sent to the office, for every infraction, behavior issue, but you see the white kid who sent to the social worker, that’s going to say something to that black child, and that white child. So we’re like, looking at these cultural differences and the bias decisions that are made behind them. And we want to educate not only the parents and teachers and students, but we want them to have open dialogue about this, have Hangouts in their schools where they can talk about it in a safe space. Nobody’s judging anybody. So those are the things that we’re doing directly. Yeah,

Taraji P. Henson 20:41
our motto was actually meeting people where they are because you know, this conversation is brand new for a lot of us in our communities. So we don’t want to scare a lot of people off, some people aren’t ready to go to a therapist, you know. So that’s where things like breathwork and sound baths and yoga and movement and grounding and things like that, where people feel okay, less intimidated by, you know, they’re used to hearing words like yoga, and you know, sound baths and things like that are more popular. Now.

Tracie Jade 21:12
We go into barbershops we go into hair salons, we go to the basketball courts skating

Taraji P. Henson 21:19
rinks. Yeah.

Tracie Jade 21:21
And it’s barrier free, you know, they don’t have to sign up for insurance or wonder how they’re going to pay for it. You know, we bring it to them acknowledging that that barrier exists in so many different ways.

Selley Looby 21:33
Absolutely. And, you know, I know that we’ve primarily been talking about children throughout this conversation. But with that being May, we just had our last episode dedicated to mothers and a special Mother’s Day episode. And maternal mental health is real. I mean, I’m a mother of three. And it’s taxing, and it’s challenging. And in order to raise good emotionally sound humans, you know, the mother and the families need to be on point. And so what ways do you see, as you’re dealing with, you know, different folks within the community? How do you see the importance of maternal mental health showing up in these conversations, and in these settings, it’s

Taraji P. Henson 22:16
very important because what happens and what has happened to us for seven generations is because we haven’t healed and we haven’t even really had the conversations as we pass down. Our defense mechanisms, our coping skills, which are a lot of them are dysfunctional, because that’s all we know, we know how to survive. But we’ve been on bandaid, bandaid and stitched up, we haven’t totally healed from slavery from things that our ancestors, so those things live in our DNA. And we’re just starting to have these conversations. So a lot of times, you know, we’re passing down back, I wouldn’t say a victim, I’m not a victim. But I am a product of passing down my trauma to my son because I didn’t heal. We’re in a space now. Well, we put it all on the table, because I know I need to heal. But that’s where we are, you know, like, it’s a wake up call to the parents first because the parents were passing it down if we aren’t healing ourselves.

Selley Looby 23:14
Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything more eye opening in the journey of self reflection. And when you become a parent, and when you become a mother, you start to realize, oh, wow, I have a lot of work to do. Can you share a little bit more about your upcoming event? The 2024? Can we talk symposium? Sure, I’m

Tracie Jade 23:31
glad you asked. We, over the past four years, we’ve had Can we talk symposium, which is basically an opportunity for therapists, researchers, politicians, you know, the general public to all come together to sort of talk about the trends of mental health in the black community, look for different modalities and different methods of addressing these systemic issues. We also have opportunity for new and budding therapists to come through, that we can lend some support to. And we’re looking for, you know, again, coming up with some suggestions based on this sort of national blanket of information that all of these therapists bring back to the table that we can share with Congress so that they are aware from the ground of what some of the challenges are, that may be missed, because the research wasn’t done adequately. And so it’s really an opportunity for us to come together with the mental health community and look for solutions to our challenges.

Selley Looby 24:51
Thank you for that Tracie. And that actually leads to my next question is, you know, what do you want members of Congress and other policymakers to know around mental health Challenges facing black children, black mothers, youth and families.

Tracie Jade 25:04
Well, I’m just gonna go right back to what Taraji spoke about before with epigenetics and the passing down of behaviors from seven generations and beyond. I think that that is not acknowledged enough. And that there’s a multi layering of trauma that black people possess and are trying to move through. But we’re treated as if what they see is what they get. And it’s the absolute opposite, you don’t see the seven generations that are moving through the epigenetics of people of color. And so more research in that space, more methodologies and approaches to support that specific kind of healing, the layered healing that I think we miss, with these blanket research papers that only address what folks are seeing in front of them. That’s what I would want Congress to understand. Yeah,

Taraji P. Henson 26:06
and slavery is something that you just can’t get over or forget about. The damage has been done. And we’ve been living with it for seven generations, you can’t

Tracie Jade 26:16
just get rid of it, you can’t go to a therapy session, and it’s over. It’s literally wired in your body. And there are specific, specific modalities that need to be used in order to help people of color to release this trauma that’s in their bodies.

Taraji P. Henson 26:33
Everything is not a mental illness, either. Sometimes you’re operating from this place of epigenetics, like sometimes a person snaps, and they’re just operating from that place. It has nothing to do with the entire mental illness, everything is not mental illness. That’s why the research is needed. We

Selley Looby 26:53
have a theory of change at first focus. And oftentimes it starts with the research, right? Like how can that in shape and form policy? And oftentimes, especially in black communities, and communities of color that gets overlooked, right? I mean, same thing in clinical trials, same thing, and you know, so many other cases as it relates to communities of color, in particular, the black community. So the one question, I know this is gonna be a good one. This is our last one. I love the way that you Taraji and Tracie came together. There’s nothing more beautiful than having a passion partner to do this work. Because we know it’s, it’s hard, it can get heavy. Sometimes you’re taking two, three steps forward, and then you take one two, step back, we have a budding playlist here, a speaking of kids playlist. And so my last question to both of you is, you know, when you have those hard days, do you have a song or an album that keeps you motivated to keep moving forward? Hmm. Oh, so many.

Taraji P. Henson 27:55
So many, you

Selley Looby 27:56
can do top three,

Taraji P. Henson 27:57
we can do gospel.

Tracie Jade 27:59
Yeah, we can go blues, we can go a lot of places. I would just say if I had to choose one that would describe what helps me to come up out of, you know, hard times trauma, etc. And what I’m hoping young people will get is a Black Butterfly by Denise. Denise Williams.

Taraji P. Henson 28:19
Yeah, Black Butterfly. That’s a good one, Tracie. That’s a good one. I’ll bring it up to speed. So the kids will be like, what song are they talking about? I’d say Mary J. Blige just fine. Because at the end of the day, you’re gonna be just fine. Yeah. I love that. Oh, the sun will come out tomorrow. The sun will come out tomorrow. Because if you can just breathe through that dark moment. The sun always comes out after a major storm. Yeah,

Selley Looby 28:43
yeah, that’s a life lesson. Especially when it as it relates to feelings. No feelings are forever. They’ll pass.

Taraji P. Henson 28:48
They pass all the time. Yes, they do.

Selley Looby 28:51
Taraji, Tracie, thank you both so much for your time. We appreciate the work you’re doing. And good luck and continue to fight. So thank you both so much for taking the time.

Taraji P. Henson 29:02
Thank you for having such a

Tracie Jade 29:04
pleasure. Thank you.

Selley Looby 29:11
So on today’s state of play, Bruce, we’re really gonna get into some of the numbers and stats surrounding the mental health crisis impacting children. You know, we know in the last few years both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Surgeon General’s reports have really declared that there’s a national emergency surrounding the state of child and adolescent mental health today.

Bruce Lesley 29:34
And what we know is that, for example, black youth suicide rates are rising faster than those of any other racial or ethnic group in America, and twice as many black children as white children last caregivers to COVID-19. So in addition to the crisis for all kids, there’s a even more pronounced crisis among black children.

Selley Looby 29:53
Yes, and we also know that black children are more likely to be physically restrained than white children and also more likely to receive a diagnosis of a disruptive disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder than white children who are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD.

Bruce Lesley 30:13
The other crisis that I think is somewhat neglected is that we had, over time through Medicaid and CHIP really cut the disparity in the uninsured rate between black white and Hispanic kids pretty dramatically. And since the end of the COVID era, and now we’re going through this Medicaid unwinding process where kids who were required to be left on Medicaid throughout the crisis so that people didn’t lose coverage are now being disenrolled. And what we’re now seeing is a growth in the disparity again, between black and white children in terms of coverage. And

Selley Looby 30:49
we all know that coverage does directly impact disparities, because a lot of families do not have and can afford, you know, sending their child once a week to a therapist paying $100 plus per session, that’s not in the cards for most American families across the country. Yeah,

Bruce Lesley 31:07
there’s so many issues, there’s, you know, there’s definitely the coverage issues and the access issues. And it creates all kinds of different answers that we really need to address in public policy to really improve health services for children with respect to mental health.

Selley Looby 31:25
So Bruce, right now, is there any legislation that is moving that you see at the forefront as it relates to to mental health? You know, we’ve been hearing that this is a bipartisan issue and things that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle can get behind, but what is actually moving? What’s the policy that’s being developed?

Bruce Lesley 31:43
There’s a variety of initiatives that are going on in Capitol Hill right now. And it does address this problem of between coverage and access and workforce and service delivery. Right. So one point is that Medicaid disenrollment, or that what people are referring to is the unwinding process, which is that kids during COVID, were required not to be disenrolled. And since that public health emergency has ended, or was declared to be ended, states have gone through the process of destroying kids. And unfortunately, in states like Florida, and Texas, hundreds of 1000s of children have lost health insurance. And so that is creating a crisis. and of itself, more than 4 million kids have lost health insurance. So that’s one thing that Congress is looking at is ways to try to mitigate the growing uninsured crisis. And again, that is growing the disparity between white and black kids. You know, if you’re concerned about race equity in which we are, this is something we need to address with respect to services and access, you know, lots of examples there of things that Congress is thinking about. One is that school based health services are really a place where kids are, we should be improving and making sure that every high school in this country and junior high school, frankly, have access to school based health services. And that is not available. In fact, as funding has been cut in a lot of states across the country. Those are one at some of the first services that get cut. And as we were having this cultural backlash in some states, there’s actually been this push to eliminate mental health services, moms for liberty, for example, recently came out so they do not support mental health services to be in schools, when and that is exactly what kids need. There’s also a crisis with respect to where services are provided. And I think that we would all agree that community based services are the most effective. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is some really disturbing trends where kids have been institutionalized for mental health and behavioral health needs. You know, Paris Hilton actually has really led in that initiative to try to get kids deinstitutionalized. And so that’s, that’s another area where there’s some legislative action and considerations, then there’s sort of the problems even when you have insurance, right? So managed care, creates barriers and limits access to services for people. So for all of us who have health insurance, sometimes when you need care, managed care creates a prior authorization requirement before you can be referred. And that is often the case with mental health services. And so right now the Senate Finance Committee is actually doing investigation on prior authorization and how that is limiting access to care. And then another thing is Congress passed years ago mental health parity, which requires that services offered for physical health must also be provided in mental health, and that has not happened. So there needs to be some push to fix that. So lots of things are being considered and talked about, but really nothing has had happen, nothing has passed into law.

Selley Looby 35:02
And it seems like we need to get moving on that for the work that first focus has done, you know, nearly 20 years, mental health is a growing budding portfolio for us. And it seems like on the front as it relates to federal policy and advocacy, both at the federal level and at the state and local levels, there’s a lot that needs to be done. Because we’re not going to see this trend, going away all the different issues impacting kids today, from technology to social media to, you know, this new Uncharted wave of AI to, you know, bullying, to me, you name it, there’s a lot of things kids are facing now, just the pressure of being a kid today just feels different than what it felt like 2030 years ago. And so it seems like, you know, we need to get moving on some of these policies to make it easier for not only for kids, but for parents, right? Because oftentimes, it’s the parents that are navigating the insurance process and setting up these appointments and setting up the coordination that let’s not give them more work or more of a burden or more hurdles to jump over. Yeah,

Bruce Lesley 36:03
kids definitely need access. I mean, you know, this, this podcast has shown, kids are in crisis. And instead what we’re doing is limiting access to services. And this is this is a problem that is leading to, you know, all kinds of horrific outcomes such as rising suicide rates, and so we need to do all we can to do better by our children. Absolutely.

This is speaking of kids, thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Lesley,

Selley Looby 36:37
and I’m Messellech Looby special thanks to our guests Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jade.

Bruce Lesley 36:42
Speaking of kids as a podcast by first focus on children. Elizabeth Windom

Selley Looby 36:46
is the supervising producer and Julia Windham is the Associate Producer,

Bruce Lesley 36:50
Leila Nimatallah is the advocacy and mobilizing producer and the senior producer is Jay Woodward.

Selley Looby 36:56
Our theme music is don’t look twice by Sam Parsh for more information

Bruce Lesley 36:59
about this week’s episode, go to first You can find all of our links in our show notes.

Selley Looby 37:05
If you have any thoughts questions or interest in becoming a first focus on children Ambassador email us at speaking of kids at first focus dot org

Bruce Lesley 37:14
and please follow rate and review on Apple podcasts Spotify or YouTube.

Selley Looby 37:19
Speaking of kids is produced by Windhaven productions and blue J Atlantic