Youth-Led Policy Report Promotes Solutions to Improve Mental Health for Black Girls & Youth of Color
In light of the past two years, with a devastating global pandemic, alarming disparities within an escalating youth mental health crisis, and renewed momentum toward anti-racist policy solutions, the need for adequate, culturally-responsive and gender-affirming mental health services is as apparent and urgent as ever, especially for youth of color. Nearly half of all children with mental health disorders are not receiving the care and treatment they need.
This week, The Children’s Partnership (TCP) and the National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) released the report, Youth-Centered Strategies for Hope, Healing and Health, from The Hope, Healing and Health Collective (H3 Collective), a youth-led policy council that worked to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) youth in developing policy solutions to address their own mental health needs and advance the mental health of all youth in this country.
The report sets forth actionable solutions that policymakers at the federal, state and local levels can implement to build a culturally-responsive and gender-affirming mental health care system for all youth, especially youth of color. The report highlights several issues that impact access to mental health care for BIPOC youth, including high mental health costs, a lack of culturally diverse mental health professionals and inadequate access to community services and supports that promote mental health. The report recommends several policy solutions to address these issues, including:
Increasing youth access to and knowledge of mental health insurance and benefits and lowering the overall cost of mental health services for youth and their families;
Expanding what public and private youth-serving systems consider within the scope of mental health services to include promotion of racial and ethnic affinity practices, rituals and civic engagement for youth from historically marginalized communities;
Building capacity for youth peer leaders to provide culturally responsive and gender-affirming peer support, mental health education and wellness promotion;
Creating policies that ensure BIPOC youth and their families receive care and treatment, rather than surveillance and discipline, in response to their distress;
Creating and maintaining “safe spaces” for all youth, particularly for girls, transgender youth and youth with immigration status concerns; and
Engaging school-aged youth, especially those from marginalized communities, in community/school needs assessments, program development, implementation and policy-making around mental health and well-being.
The H3 Collective was led by 15 youth leaders and organizations who worked together with support and thought partnership from adult allies within policy, research, direct service and government. A full list of the youth participants, who represent a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, and more information on the H3 Collective is available here.
"Being part of this collective really just validated my feelings that us youth matter," said Adria Marin, a 17 year old photographer at Las Fotos Project, an organization that empowers teenage girls through photography and mentorship, and youth leader in the H3 Collective. "It's about taking care of our next generation. I feel really inspired by this program.”
“Young people are incredible—we know from decades of research on brain science that adversity can be overcome and resilience thrives in the many that may not have had the ideal circumstances for growing up healthy and well,” said TCP President, Mayra E. Alvarez. “However, as we seek to recover from the multiple crises impacting young people, this is a moment to not go back to the status quo that left far too many children and young people behind. This is a moment to seize and to bring about real change for improving youth mental health and well-being. To combat today’s youth mental health crisis, we must center and lead with young people, knowing solutions will be strongest when the people who are most impacted are leading the way in their creation.”
“Ensuring that youth get the services and resources they need to thrive can have a lifelong impact. If we want to meaningfully support youth—especially Black girls and gender expansive youth—and get them access to the mental health care they deserve, we must listen to what they say they need and use that as a foundation to build responsive policy solutions,” said NBWJI Executive Director, Dr. Sydney McKinney. “The partnership with this extraordinary group of young people has intentionally centered youth voices and experiences, which has led to this rare and exciting opportunity to elevate and implement policy solutions developed by and for young people.”
Black, Indigenous, and Latinx youth have borne the brunt of the consequences of centuries of colonization and violence. These generational and community traumas have collectively conspired to disconnect these young people from cultural protective factors that would serve as buffers to toxic stress and poor health and well-being. This is evidenced by the alarming trends in children’s mental health—trends that are compounded for youth with several marginalized identities, including their gender identity, sexual orientation and their race or ethnicity.
The release of this report is just the beginning in our collective work to ensure the health and well-being of all young people. It is essential that we continue to listen to youth voices and center their lived experiences in order to build a more equitable mental health policy agenda for youth and children.
This work would not have been possible without the generous support, leadership and partnership of Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates company focused on social progress. Funding from Pivotal Ventures was disbursed to the participating youth leaders and collaborating grassroots organizations selected from applicants across the country with expertise in community-based and trauma-informed care, healing-centered engagements and youth leadership.