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Many California Families Can't Access Mental Health Care for Kids. This East Palo Alto Mom Found a Way []


By Blanca Torres, USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, Illustration by Anna Vignet/KQED, September 30, 2022

Jasmine Cuevas stood at her kitchen stove preparing migas, stirring a pan of eggs and tortillas before calling her four children to dinner.

She spooned servings onto plates while asking each about their day.

“I get out of work, get them from school and then we come straight home,” she said. “And, it’s a wreck: dinner, homework, reading, bath and then bedtime by 7:30 at the latest.”

Cuevas, who lives in East Palo Alto, does her best to manage her parental duties from the mundane to the challenging. Before her two oldest children, now ages 7 and 9, started kindergarten, they showed signs of anxiety, stress and frustration.

One child had violent outbursts regularly, hitting and biting siblings — or anyone around. Sometimes, according to Cuevas, the child cried inconsolably. She said the other child began exhibiting signs of anxiety in preschool.

Three years ago, Cuevas, who has been a single mother for stretches of her kids’ lives, decided to seek therapy for her children. She remembers telling them, “You need to talk to someone, let’s talk to someone.”

Jasmine Cuevas cooks dinner for her four children at their home in East Palo Alto on March 30, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Cuevas is among millions of parents whose children are struggling with their emotional and mental health. KQED decided to not include the names and genders of Cuevas’ children in this story to protect their privacy after consulting a gender educator.

In California, 1 in 8 children was diagnosed with anxiety or depression in 2020, a 70% increase from 2016 when 1 in 14 received a similar diagnosis, according to a 2022 report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Demand for mental health services for children has swelled as expressions of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts have increased alarmingly — a situation experts have labeled a crisis. But while parents are told to “get help” for their children, they often run into one or two main obstacles: the high cost of care, and the lack of therapists.

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