DENVER, CO - Governor Polis today signed legislation into law to continue the successful I Matter program that connects Colorado youth with free counseling sessions by allowing school districts to offer mental health screenings in schools to support student’s access to mental health care.
“Improving access to behavioral health care for Colorado kids has been my top priority as a legislator, and I’m excited that Colorado will soon offer free screenings to students to help connect them to free mental health resources,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “We’ve successfully connected over 8,500 Colorado kids with free counseling sessions since the implementation of our I Matter program in the fall of 2022. This new law will help the program reach more youth in need of care, preventing youth mental health issues from escalating to the point of requiring more serious treatments or interventions.”
“I'm proud that Colorado is a leader when it comes to providing accessible, affordable mental health care for our youth. But our kids are in crisis and we must do more,” Senator Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, said. “This new law will help identify issues early on so kids and families can get the support they need. I’m thrilled to champion additional mental health supports for Colorado’s youth."
HB23-1003 allows public schools to participate in a voluntary mental health screening program for sixth through twelfth graders. Schools are required to notify parents of the date and time that the mental health screening is scheduled, the purpose, and information about the mental health screener. Parents will have the option to opt their child out of participating, although students over 12 years old could still decide themselves to participate, due to existing Colorado law.
The screening will be conducted via a questionnaire and evaluated by a licensed screener. If a student is at-risk for attempting suicide, physical self-harm, harming others, or is in crisis, the licensed screener will immediately notify the parents as well as the school and the school will react according to school crisis response policy. If the licensed screener finds the student in need of further help, they will contact the parent about additional treatment options, including information or a referral to the I Matter program.
The I Matter Program was created with the passage of HB21-1258, sponsored by Rep. Michaelson Jenet, and expanded by HB22-1243. The program received $15 million dollars in funding from the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions to provide six free therapy sessions to youth across the state and is available virtually and in person. Since the program started in October 2021, over 8,500 Colorado kids have utilized the free therapy services, with almost 44% attending at least four sessions. The participating students come from 59 of the 64 counties across Colorado.