Caldwell, Valverde: Federal funds should be used to


bolster desperately needed services to children


STATE HOUSE – Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde join children’s health and welfare advocates in strongly supporting funding within the proposed supplemental budget (2021-H 6494) to address crises affecting children’s mental and physical health, child care and supports.

The proposal would dedicate $38.5 million from the state’s $1.13 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to bolstering pediatric care, child care and early intervention and the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), all of which already have been vastly overburdened by the strains of the pandemic.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association last week declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, pointing to the challenges of the pandemic coupled with challenges that previously existed.

Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), both of whom are the mothers of young children, said the critical level of need demands immediate attention and resources, and is precisely the sort of necessity that should be addressed with ARPA funds.

“The pandemic has been very hard on children, isolating them and cutting many off from resources that protect them and help them grow, while also severely curtailing the availability of supports that were already in limited supply. Some kids have lost family or friends, some have not had even the most basic needs met or have suffered abuse, and virtually all have lost important social connections and opportunities to learn,” said Representative Caldwell. “Our service providers — pediatricians, pediatric mental health providers, development specialists, DCYF — were under-supported even before the pandemic, and now they are immensely overwhelmed by the surge in demand. More than ever, Rhode Island’s kids desperately need these services so they can move forward and have genuine opportunities to grow and thrive.”

Said Senator Valverde, “As the pandemic stretches on through its second year, a significant portion of every kid’s childhood has been consumed by it. It has completely denied many children critical services, such as Early Intervention, because they have aged out while the pandemic limited their access. This is a crisis that will be passed on to our schools, which will be supporting kids who haven’t had what they needed earlier in their development. We need to invest in getting Rhode Island children the services they need as soon as possible, because their ability to achieve throughout their lives will be deeply affected by these years. They deserve the opportunity to heal and thrive, and our state’s future depends on their success.”

Senator Valverde and Representative Caldwell pointed to testimony on the proposal provided by the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which highlighted its declaration of a mental health emergency for children. According to AAP, between March and October 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for children with mental health emergencies rose by 24 percent for children ages 5-11 and 31 percent for children ages 12-17. The group also cited federal Centers for Disease Control data indicating an increase of more than 50 percent in suspected suicide attempt visits to emergency departments among girls ages 12-17 in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.

“Rhode Island’s children and their families continue to suffer greatly during this prolonged pandemic and have now reached a crisis state. Infants, children and teens are all experiencing a lack of sufficient resources to meet their physical and mental health needs and are facing ongoing trauma. Families are drowning. The state has the money to begin to mitigate this crisis, and it must act now to use designated rescue funds to rescue our children and families,” said Allison Brindle, president of the Rhode Island AAP chapter.