Getting more mental health professionals into our classrooms

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 I was elected, I learned of the many mental health pitfalls awaiting so many children here in Florida. Nearly six years ago, during my first legislative session, I passed House Bill 1183, a comprehensive mental health reform focusing on children’s mental health, specifically on the Baker Act. HB 1183 established a Baker Act Task Force to meet monthly to investigate the proliferation of the use of the Baker Act, on minors, and put in place certain regulations that receiving facilities that admit minors must adhere to.

After HB 1183 passed, the Legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott, I knew my work was only beginning with regard to mental health reform in our state. During the 2019 legislative session, I filed and passed House Bill 361 and House Bill 363, which implement several recommendations of the Baker Act Task Force. Both bills became law after being signed by Gov. DeSantis.

I have spearheaded mental health reform in the Legislature, and I don’t plan to stop. This past session, I expanded my focus beyond just the Baker Act in passing House Bill 255, which focuses on applied behavior analyzes (ABA), an umbrella term referring to the principles and techniques used to assess, treat and prevent challenging behaviors while promoting new , desired behaviors. ABA has been recognized as a treatment option for a range of behavioral health conditions, with an emphasis on the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism spectrum disorder impacts the social, emotional and communication skills of affected individuals. The disorder includes a range of conditions that were previously diagnosed separately, such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other non-specific developmental disorders.

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

Current law requires public K-12 schools to allow certified, licensed applied behavior analysts and 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 a nationally recognized paraprofessional certification in behavior analysis, practices under the supervision of either a certified behavior analyst or licensed mental health professional, and who is employed by an enrolled Medicaid provider, must be allowed to provide ABA services in the classroom setting.

This bill is greatly needed so that children will have greater access to the mental health care they need and our education system will be relieved of some of the stress from 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 running for re-election in 2022.

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