SACRAMENTO - Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Children Now announced legislation aimed at improving the mental health of children who have experienced childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect, and community violence. The bill would establish a four-year pilot program to assist elementary schools in providing mental health services to students, prioritizing schools in communities with high levels of childhood trauma and adversity.
"Childhood trauma can have a devastating and lasting impact not only on our children but also on our families and our communities. The evidence is clear that when we don't intervene, many children are more likely to be either victims or perpetrators of crime,” said Attorney General Harris. “This legislation will connect our most vulnerable children with the support they need and is a smart investment in the health and safety of our state.”
Assembly Bill 1644 will help schools and communities address the extensive impacts of childhood trauma, which can result in negative educational, health, social, and economic outcomes for children across the state. Left unaddressed, exposure to childhood trauma can have devastating effects on children’s developing brains and leave children less ready to learn and more likely to exhibit anxiety, withdrawal, and aggressive behavior in school. Providing trauma-informed interventions, including mental health supports, are critical to promoting healthy childhood development and addressing the root causes of crime.
“I’m excited to author AB 1644 with the support of Attorney General Harris and a stellar group of advocates in order to provide children suffering from trauma with the healing they need to survive and thrive. A child’s exposure to trauma is one of the greatest public health threats of our time, seriously compromising a child’s long-term physical and emotional wellbeing. As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, I’ve had the opportunity to extensively address the impact of trauma on our most challenged communities in the state, and I am confident that AB 1644 will provide our kids with the transformative support they need to heal.”
AB 1644 builds upon the former Early Mental Health Initiative (EMHI), a highly successful evidence-based program aimed at helping elementary school students experiencing difficulty in adjusting to a school setting. EMHI awarded matching grants to local schools to fund prevention and intervention programs from 1992 to 2012, before the program was defunded in 2012.
Over 75 percent of children who completed the EMHI program showed an improvement in learning behaviors, attendance, school adjustment, or school-related competencies. AB 1644 would provide schools that have continued to offer EMHI services with technical assistance to strengthen and expand existing programs, while also expanding EMHI services to more schools, particularly those serving students who have experienced high levels of childhood trauma and adversity.
Children Now President Ted Lempert said, “Childhood trauma is a public health crisis that can impede emotional well-being, diminish kids’ school performance and set children up for a lifetime of problems. This bill would help kids exposed to trauma reach their full potential by helping schools provide quality mental health supports to their youngest students.”
Attorney General Harris has long been at the forefront of this issue and last year created a first-of-its-kind Bureau of Children’s Justice within the California Department of Justice to protect children and respond to the most pressing challenges facing California’s children, including childhood trauma and exposure to violence.
Under Attorney General Harris’s leadership, California was one of three states nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative. Attorney General Harris’s office is leading the California Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative—a collaboration of state agencies—in its work to prevent, identify, and heal the impacts of violence and trauma on children across the state.
Attorney General Harris has spent her entire career prosecuting those who commit sexual and physical crimes against children and defending every child in California. Attorney General Harris served two terms as District Attorney of San Francisco, where she created a child sexual assault unit and helped found the nationally recognized Center for Youth Wellness, an organization in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood working to improve the health of children exposed to childhood trauma. She also led the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Children and Families and specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.