By Annabelle Gardner
On Sunday, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1299, “Medi-Cal Specialty Mental Health Services for Foster Youth,” into law. This represents a significant turning point in the delivery of mental health services to foster youth in California: “out-of-county” will no longer mean “out-of-luck.” The passage of AB 1299 also demonstrates what’s possible when advocates, providers, administrators, and legislators collaborate to break down barriers to care for children and youth.
The “out-of-county” problem has plagued the children’s mental health system in California for nearly two decades–leaving as many as 13,000 of the state’s most vulnerable youth without equal access to the mental health care they need. AB 1299 eliminates a key barrier to mental health care for these youth: the law shifts responsibility for providing or arranging for specialty mental health services under Medi-Cal from the county where a foster youth entered care to the county where the child resides. The law also ensures that Medi-Cal funding will follow the child so that any net change in costs to each county will be reimbursed through the regular Realignment process. Finally, the law allows for exceptions to the transfer of responsibility in order to assure continuity of care or improve child welfare outcomes.