Bringing more mental health professionals into our classrooms

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When I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016, my initial goal was to become a champion for education reform, but after being elected I learned the many pitfalls mental health issues that await so many children here in Florida. Almost six years ago, in my first legislative session, I passed Bill 1183, a comprehensive mental health reform focused on children’s mental health, specifically the Baker Act. HB 1183 established a Baker Law Task Force that meets monthly to investigate the proliferation of use of the Baker Law on minors and has put in place certain regulations to which residential facilities that admit minors minors must comply.

After the passage of HB 1183, the Legislative Assembly was enacted by the government of the day. Rick Scott, I knew my work was just beginning when it came to mental health reform in our state. During the 2019 legislative session, I introduced and passed Bill 361 and Bill 363, which implement several recommendations of the Baker Act Task Force. Both bills became law after being signed into law by Governor DeSantis.

I spearheaded mental health reform in the Legislative Assembly, and I don’t intend to stop. In the last session, I expanded my scope beyond the Baker Act by passing House Bill 255, which focuses on applied behavior analyzes (ABA), an umbrella term refers to the principles and techniques used to assess, treat, and prevent difficult behaviors while promoting new, desired behaviors. ABA has been recognized as a treatment option for a range of behavioral health issues, with an emphasis on treating autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Autism spectrum disorders have an impact on the social, emotional and communication skills of those affected. The disorder includes a range of conditions that have been previously diagnosed separately, such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other non-specific developmental disorders.

ABA is widely accepted among healthcare professionals, is used in many treatment schools and clinics, and is considered evidence-based best practice by the US Surgeon General, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Current law requires K-12 public schools to license applied behavior analysts and certified and licensed mental health professionals to provide ABA services in a classroom setting. However, this requirement does not apply to behavior technicians working under the direction of these professionals.

Under HB 255, a registered behavior technician who holds nationally recognized paraprofessional certification in behavior analysis, practices under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst or licensed mental health professional, and who is employed by a registered Medicaid provider, must be licensed to provide classroom ABA services.

This bill is badly needed so that children have better access to the mental health care they need and that our education system is relieved of some of the stress caused by the shortage of mental health professionals.

State Rep. David Silvers, D-Lake Clarke Shores, represents District 87, which includes parts of West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Beach, Palm Springs and Greenacres. He is a candidate for re-election in 2022.

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