Bill addresses mental health, substance abuse

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Senate Bill 282 was introduced by Sen. Darryl Ervin Rouson, D-Tampa, on Jan. 11, the first day of Florida’s legislative session.

It addresses mental health and substance use disorders. The bill specifically focuses on allowing those who have had issues with substance abuse and or mental illnesses to become peer specialists after background screening.

The bill follows House Bill 795, which revised background screening requirements and certifications for peer specialists.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families website, the agency supported First Lady Casey DeSantis’ proposal to initiate a $12 million acquisition to support the mental health needs of first responders, which will expand peer-to-peer mental health services. With this funding the department supported more than 150,000 adults and more than 34,000 children through mental health services. As for community substance abuse services, over 55,000 adults and over 7,000 children were assisted.

Laniyah Payne, the mother of a 2-year-old, has concerns about allowing those who may have had mental illnesses and substance abuse issues to take part in a child’s education.

“I would not really feel comfortable with my child being instructed by someone who has substance use disorders and mental illnesses due to the fact I would not want my child exposed to that,” Payne said. “Unless, they have fully recovered from those situations it would not put me at ease. However, if extensive training and background checks became a requirement that would actually change my decision.”

SB 282 addresses specialty care programs such as mental health residential treatment facilities, supportive housing and an environment free from abuse to assist the peer specialists into a healthy transition in education.

Rachel Walker, president of Active Minds, Rachel Walker, says Rouson’s legislation could have a positive impact, not to mention provide much-needed assistance.

“I do believe that the Department of Children and Families should require a background check because anytime you are working with kids you should properly vet who will be in contact with them,” Walker said. “Mental health issues are common, and I believe it shouldn’t be held against someone if they are properly being helped and treated for it. It will also serve as a real-life example for those they are seeking to help and being that kids are impressionable it’s important to know what information they are around and what they have the potential to absorb for their safety and well-being.”

Florida’s DCF has a pilot program that joins with local law enforcement and the Department of Juvenile Justice in Volusia County.