Bills improving children’s health move out of committee

Bills improving children’s health move out of committee

(Calif.) The California Department of Education may soon be home to an office that deals directly with the Department of Health Care Services to ensure all students receive the school-based healthcare services they need, under a bill moving through the Legislature.

Additionally, a separate bill also approved by the Senate education committee Wednesday, would require schools to include lessons on the early warning signs of adolescent relationship abuse and intimate partner violence as part of the state’s comprehensive sexual health education curriculum for middle and high school students.

That mandate, as well as anything else related to student health such as obesity, diabetes, suicide prevention or mental health, would likely be overseen in part by the new health services office required under AB 834, by Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell, D-Long Beach.

The bill seeks to establish an office within the CDE that deals with health issues related to school children, and will work with DHCS on issues related to Medi-Cal. Supporters of the bill said that creating an office of school based health within CDE will help institutionalize a relationship between the two entities will ensure all students eligible for health services receive them, and that schools will be able to bill for funds owed back for those services.

“We need these two institutions talking to each other, and right now there’s nothing in the law that fosters a relationship between CDE and DHCS–and currently, when they do, it’s usually only about special education,” Hellan Roth Dowden, spokesperson for Teachers for Healthy Kids, said in an interview after the committee hearing.

“But Medi-Cal has expanded and schools are now able to provide services to all kids who have Medi-Cal or are eligible for Medi-Cal, so schools will be able to bill for those services provided for kids with individualized education plans, plus additional services where there is a care plan,” Dowden said. “That’s why we think it’s so important now that we have some direction from the CDE to help schools understand and take advantage of this new funding source.”

While the associations between physical health problems and school attendance, behavior, and academic achievement have been understood for decades, more recent research has shown similar correlations student mental health and academic outcomes.

The CDE’s 2015 Blueprint for Great Schools identified a need to develop infrastructure at the CDE to improve cross-agency collaboration in support of student health. The report recommended that state-level collaboration between the education and health services departments in order to ensure a continuum of services and remove barriers to reimbursement across different programs available to school providers.

Data from the U.S. General Accounting Office shows that while California receives the largest total share of federal Medicaid funds, the amount the state receives per eligible student is low relative to other states. For example, California served 240,000 of its 3.3 million eligible students in 2010, resulting in an average of $159 per eligible student. The average among the 32 states surveyed was $544 per eligible student, with Nebraska receiving nearly $800 per eligible student.

“To run smoothly and maximize funding eligibility, school districts require support from state agencies,” O'Donnell told committee members. “Unlike many other states, California does not have an office within CDE to coordinate various health programs and services delivered through the schools. AB 834 will ensure that California schools have such a resource.”

A similar bill was introduced by then Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, but was stalled in the Assembly appropriations committee. Both Pan and Senator Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia voiced their strong support of the bill Wednesday.

AB 643, authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, would require that the state sex education curriculum include a thorough discussion of domestic violence and the telltale signs of abusive relationships in grades 7 through 12.

According to a 2015 survey of women’s health issues in California, approximately 40 percent of women reported experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes. Women ages 18-24 were 11 percent more likely than any other age group to be victims of domestic abuse, the survey found.

That same year, domestic violence fatalities accounted for almost 11 percent of all homicides in California, according to the California Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Statistics Center.

Frazier and supporters of his bill said that the best way to prevent this is to provide education to children early on about what does and does not constitute a healthy relationship.

John Lovell, spokesperson for a large number of public safety and law enforcement agencies, called AB 643 a “very smart public safety bill,” and told committee members that it will help countermand normalization of abusive relationships early on.

Lovell said that for most children, the interactions they see between their parents–whether good or bad–is what they are likely to base their own interactions with others on. Therefore, if they learn at home that it is okay to hit people or emotionally or verbally abuse others, they will likely demonstrate those behaviors outside of the home, he said

“What is so critical about this bill is that it amounts to an intervention with children so they become aware that this is behavior that is not okay,” Lovell said. “And this is the way you need to behave with your peers, these are the signs to look for, and these are the things to do if you see these signs.”

AB 643 was referred to the Senate appropriations committee, and AB 834 was passed to the health committee.