Safer Communities Act May Improve Mental Health for Some, But More Support Needed for Black and Brown Youth

The following statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Washington, D.C., June 25, 2022—Today’s signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will bring needed investments to address the youth mental health crisis, which disproportionately impacts young people of color who lack access to appropriate care.  

We applaud the bill’s substantial investments in making school-based mental health services more accessible for young people. We also appreciate the bill’s expansion of mental health services, including telehealth covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and we urge administrators to consider young people’s preference for text/app-based therapies. Finally, we continue to stress how the new nationwide 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline can benefit young people with culturally and linguistically responsive services and providers.  

Despite the bill’s significant positive investments, many communities will be harmed by increased funding to significantly bolster local police forces—including in schools—and measures that contribute to school hardening. Heightened police presence will inevitably criminalize and place blame on students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, and students with disabilities. The bill also increases surveillance methods that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. Rather than perpetuating negative school environments, investments should focus on the health and wellbeing of young people of color. 

Young people who have been directly or indirectly impacted by gun violence need access to mental health services. Exposure to gun violence traumatizes our youth and undermines their educational attainment. However, reflexively attributing gun violence to mental health challenges furthers a counterproductive narrative that stigmatizes young people who seek mental health care. Linking mental health to gun violence in this way will disproportionately hurt Black and brown youth.  

We are committed to working with policymakers on implementation of the bill and advancing future legislation that will better protect youth of color.