May 11, 2018

By Jake Murtaugh, Public Affairs Associate

Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children


The Children’s Mental Health Campaign began as a call to action to inspire mental health reform in Massachusetts and has evolved into a leading voice- so that children and youth get the right care, at the right time.

In 2006, The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) and Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) published “Children’s Mental Health in the Commonwealth: The Time is Now.” The study highlighted that the mental health system in Massachusetts was not providing appropriate care to children and teens and that “for too long the healthcare system, including its reimbursement structures, has minimized mental health as a core component of health care”. To answer the call for systemic reform, the Children’s Mental Health Campaign was born, and children’s health advocates created a broad-based mechanism to respond to an inadequate system of care for children and teens with mental and behavioral health needs.


On May 7th, 2007, the Campaign testified on increasing access to mental health services for children and teens before a State House audience. You may recognize some familiar faces!

The Campaign quickly gained support from providers, educators, consumers, and organizations, becoming an important driver for the passage of landmark legislation in the Commonwealth; Chapter 321, An Act Relative to Children’s Mental Health & Chapter 256, An Act Relative to Mental Health Parity. The Campaign grew from a collaboration of 34 organizations into a dynamic advocacy network of over 160 organizations dedicated to creating a system in which every child in the Commonwealth receives the highest quality mental health care, in the right place, at the right time.

The Children’s Mental Health Campaign continues its fight for mental health parity and for access to compassionate, effective care for children and teens in Massachusetts. Despite significant gains over the last decade, children and families continue to experience barriers to community-based behavioral health services in Massachusetts. The Campaign advocates for legislation and state budget funding in order to improve access to behavioral health care for children and teens across the Commonwealth.

The Campaign believes that Massachusetts must:

1. Support children in the community.

Because of the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI), children and teens in Massachusetts who have MassHealth coverage now have greater access to community-based treatment than their peers with commercial health insurance coverage.


Private insurers are not required to cover community and home-based care. This is a violation of mental health parity. Children and teens seeking mental and behavioral health support should have access to, and health coverage for, appropriate care, including community-based services. An Act to Increase Access to Children’s Mental Health Services in the Community (S.547) would mandate commercial insurers to cover community and home-based care, and would help strengthen parents’ ability to navigate the mental system and then access appropriate care for their children.


2. Make sure children and families know where to get care.

Too often health provider network directories are outdated and inaccurate. An Act to Increase Consumer Transparency About Insurance Provider Networks (S.538) will make sure parents know where to get the right services for their children. Provider directories should be tools for accessing the right care, and not a barrier.

3. Support young children- don’t expel them.

May 7, 2018


By Liz Belfield, Program Manager, Parent/Professional Advocacy League

Children’s Mental Health Week (CMHW) was started in 1991 by a group of families in Missouri, now called Missouri Families 4 Families, who wanted to fight discrimination and stigma in their community. The Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) supported these families and this idea, bringing CMHW to Massachusetts in 1996 to do the same –fight stigma and promote family wellness in communities.

We use this metaphor of ‘fighting’ stigma because for a lot of our families, it is a fight. When parents come to us for help, we tell them we will train them to be advocates, but what is an advocate but a fancy word for fighter? Advocates push issues forward, advocates support policies that help them, advocates fight for their causes. The parents who come to us for support already know how to fight. They’ve been fighting for their children since day one. What we teach them is how to channel their parental instincts, their internal protective mamma and papa bear- ness, into meaningful action that causes positive change for their children.

And a lot of what these parents are fighting is stigma. Stigma is so harmful in so many different ways. It has been shown to have a profound effect on a person’s sense of self and can diminish their self-esteem and confidence. Children and young people have been shown to experience higher levels of stigma than adults. Stigma is so pervasive. It doesn’t just affect the individual, but their family and friends, their school teachers and peers, their community leaders and health care professionals. Stigma can restrict access to services and the services themselves. In fact, the former US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, stated that stigma is one of the most important problems facing the entire mental health field.

On average, individuals wait 8-10 years from when mental health symptoms emerge to when they seek help. Can you imagine someone waiting 10 years for cancer treatment or 10 years for a heart transplant? This lag in help isn’t due to not needing help, but not knowing how to get help or being afraid to get help. When those struggling with mental health challenges are portrayed as violent, unpredictable, or ‘crazy,’ it’s not hard to imagine why they wait so long to get help. Unfortunately, those individuals are more likely to be the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators. Stigma is preventing individuals from getting help, which could cost them their life.

Mental health stigma is literally killing people. Not through the tragedies broadcast on the news, but through suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, the 3rd leading cause of death in children aged 10-14, and the 2nd leading cause of death for youth aged 15-24. In fact, more young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED. And rates in minority and LGBTQ communities are worse. Native American teens have a suicide death rate that’s twice the rate of Caucasian teens and for LGBTQ aged 10-24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death.

This is happening all over the country, all over the world, and our little Commonwealth is not immune. Massachusetts is higher than the national average at 11% of youth reporting experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and suicides in Massachusetts increased 40% from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, there were 608 recorded suicides, more than homicides and motor vehicle deaths combined. And that number is only rising.

Another concerning statistic is that while 55% of people who died by suicide in 2015 were in the middle of a mental health problem, only 39% were receiving services or treatment for mental health or substance use. Why aren’t individuals getting treatment for their mental health? Why is there a 10 year lag between symptoms and treatment? Why are we letting this issue hurt our families, friends, and neighbors?

We need to change the way we think about mental health and talk about mental health. Books and articles don’t have as much impact on the way we think as the people around us do. When you stand up and say something, you give permission to others to say something too. We need to create a culture where mental health can be talked about productively and openly. We need to create places that people can go to receive help without judgement or shame. We need to talk about how mental illness is not a sign of weakness but how seeking and accepting help is a sign of strength.

Families fight stigma because they are fighting against institutions and red tape that prevent their children from getting the care they need. They are fighting against negative connotations that cause their children actual harm. They are fighting against whispered words and dirty looks that make their children feel like mental illness is shameful. They are fighting against fear, against prejudice, against discrimination, against hate. But mostly important, they are fighting for something – for access to care, for a safe place in their communities, and for their children to have a chance to change their futures for the better.


This blog is part of HCFA’s Children’s Mental Health Week series.

April 19, 2018
On Saturday, April 14th, in what seemed to be a precursor to the Boston Marathon, members of the Immigrant Healthcare Access Coalition (IHAC) steering committee completed their own long distance event – they ran the 2018 Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities. This training was part of a coordinated, on-going effort to inform immigrants and the groups that serve them about their health care rights. The training also aimed to dispel the growing fear and mistrust within immigrant communities that is preventing many individuals and families from seeking the health care services they need - when they need them. 

A panoramic look at the 2018 Democracy School in action!

Staff members from Health Care For All (HCFA), Health Law Advocates (HLA), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) spent six months meeting one-on-one with individuals and organizations in the Greater Boston area to discuss the challenges to health care access that are facing immigrant communities and to anticipate  additional challenges coming in the near future.

(L-R) Sally Strniste, HCFA’s Chief of Staff, and Maria R. Gonzalez Albuixech smiling for the start of the training!

Robust recruitment efforts led to the participation of more than 65 health care providers, community based organizations, and individual consumers. Having had a goal of 15-20 attendees, the event’s organizers were thrilled that so many committed advocates and volunteers came together to learn about the immigration rules and regulations that are critical to health care access for the communities they serve.  High turnout at the training confirmed that there is a need for clear information and individual outreach within local communities that are made up of or serve large numbers of immigrants and their families.

By the time April 14th showed up on the calendar, everyone who helped plan the “Democracy School: Building Health Care Power in Immigrant Communities” was eager to implement the training that took place at “La Alianza Hispana” located on Massachusetts Avenue.

(L-R) Suzanne Curry, Hannah Frigand, and Yaquelin Cordon, HCFA staff members and event volunteers, getting ready to receive the participants.

Maria R. González Albuixech, HCFA’s Director of Strategy and Communications, and Deolinda Daveiga, HCFA’s Outreach and IHAP Coordinator, opened the training in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Language capacity is a critical piece of the training and the project and all resources were made available in three languages so that attendees could benefit as much as possible from the presentations by following along in the language that was most comfortable for them.

Maria R. González Albuixech and Deolinda Daveiga, both of HCFA, deliver the opening remarks to a packed room

The programming for the rest of the training included a number of presentations from project partners. Liza Ryan, of MIRA, gave a brief overview of changing immigration policy at the federal level. She emphasized the importance of being knowledgeable but also calm during these tense times.

Liza Ryan, of MIRA, delivers the first PowerPoint presentation of the day about federal immigration changes

Following this federal update, Andrew Cohen, the chair of the Immigrant Health Care Access Coalition (IHAC) and an attorney at HLA, focused his presentation on the specific health care protections that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have under the law. Despite the shifting political landscape, Andrew’s powerful presentation described the changes that are on the horizon and laws that will remain intact in the immediate future.

Time to Authorize Dental Therapy in MA

The time has come to support Dental Therapist legislation in Massachusetts. We hope that you feel as strongly about this issue as we do. 

To find out more information about Dental Therapists, click here. 

To find out what our Oral Health team is doing to further this cause, click here. 

Stay tuned to discover more ways to get involved and help us work to get Dental Therapist legislation passed in the Commonwealth.


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