Solutions in Focus: AB 1907 Enhancing Child Welfare with Behavioral Health Data

Solutions in Focus: Assembly Bill 1907

Assembly Bill 1907 (AB 1907) aims to improve the behavioral health of children and youth in the child welfare system across California by integrating behavioral health insights from all 58 counties. Authored by Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, it is called the Child Welfare Behavioral Health Data Integration Act.

The Problem

Children and youth involved in California’s child welfare system often encounter significant behavioral health challenges, stemming from past traumatic experiences and their involvement in the system itself. Up to 80% of youth in the child welfare system have significant mental health needs, a stark contrast to 18-22% of youth among the general population.

Additionally, almost half (45%) of youth in the child welfare system report substance use within the last six months, with 35% meeting the criteria for a substance use disorder. These statistics illustrate the overwhelming need for better, more tailored mental health and substance use supports for youth in the child welfare system.

What these statistics do not illustrate is what kind of mental health and substance use services are most needed for youth in the child welfare system. In order to offer targeted services, state leaders need more comprehensive data on the types of conditions youth struggle with and the nature of the traumas they have experienced.

Much of this data already exists and is measured by the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) tool. AB 1907 would incorporate the behavioral health data measured by the CANS tool into the California Child and Family Service Review System, also known as the Child Welfare Indicators Project, in order to improve behavioral health outcomes for youth in the child welfare system.

What is CANS?

The Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) is a survey tool that evaluates youth on questions of life functioning, strengths, cultural factors, caregiver needs, behavioral health needs, and risk behaviors. Each item receives a score from zero to three and each score suggests different service and support interventions.

Different versions of the CANS are currently used in 50 states in child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice capacities. This data is already being collected in California.

What is the California Child and Family Service Review System?

The California Child and Family Service Review System (C-CFSR), also recognized as the Child Welfare Indicators Project, is a powerful tool for continuously improving California’s child welfare systems. It was formed as a result of the passage of the Child Welfare System Improvement and Accountability Act (AB 636, Steinberg) in 2001.

It requires all counties, on a five-year cycle, to complete a County Self-Assessment (CSA), which includes a peer review and the development of a five-year child welfare system improvement plan. In addition, it requires counties to submit annual improvement plan progress reports and do quarterly monitoring of child welfare outcomes.

Counties are not currently required to integrate any behavioral health data or outcomes into these assessments, plans, and progress reports.

How will incorporating this data help?

Incorporating the behavioral health data measured by the CANS into the California Child and Family Service Review System would allow state and county and county leaders to better understand the nature of the behavioral health needs of California’s child welfare-involved youth.

At the same time, it would empower all 58 counties across the state to evaluate, benchmark, and improve behavioral health outcomes for children within the child welfare system.

By leveraging this information, AB 1907 promises to increase more targeted behavioral health services statewide, ensuring that children and youth in the child welfare system receive the support they need to thrive.

AB 1907 is one of six pieces of legislation sponsored by the Steinberg Institute this legislative session. Each is aligned with the Institute’s Vision 2030, an initiative focused on reducing the cycle of hospitalization, homelessness and incarceration for those living with behavioral health conditions.

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