A Reimagining of California’s Commitment to the Emotional Well-Being of Its Children

By Giving List Staff   |   November 18, 2022
CCT advocates for peer-to-peer programs because they meet youth where they are – in schools. Studies show the benefits of programs like peer-to-peer include lower suspension rates and improved student relationships and adult connections.

Over the past few years, California’s leadership has responded boldly to the well-documented youth mental health crisis – one that was happening even before COVID. California Children’s Trust (CCT) has played a catalytic role in unifying and mobilizing the state’s historic reform efforts. 

In 2018, with initial funding from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, an amazing group of advisors and allies came together to form CCT. This group included Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and advocate who has focused her career on understanding and addressing the impact of violence and racism on the health and welfare of children and communities; Jevon Wilkes, who draws on his lived experiences with foster care, behavioral health, juvenile justice, and homelessness in California, to passionately and compassionately advocate for the needs of young people and families so they can heal and thrive; and Alex Briscoe, Principal of CCT, who has led a $700 million county health department, spearheaded high-level philanthropic initiatives, and is now leading a movement to reimagine Medi-Cal as a tool for equity and social justice for California’s children and youth.

Over the past decade, California children ages 10–14 experienced a 151% increase in inpatient visits for suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-injury. The pandemic made it worse. California Children’s Trust is reimagining mental health delivery so young people have access to support when they need it, in places and ways that feel safe and familiar.

CCT aims to simplify California’s complex approach to children’s behavioral and mental health development by focusing on three core strategies: maximize funding, expand access and participation, and increase system accountability. Success would be to reform the maze of government agencies and programs purporting to promote the mental health of young people – and to do so through the lens of equity and justice. 

The result of these efforts? A shift in how California supports the mental and behavioral health of children and youth.

At the end of 2021, with CCT’s advocacy leadership, the state provided $4.4 billion to launch the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI). As a result, youth will have increased access to mental health support when they need it, in places that feel safe and familiar, and with people who have similar life experiences. The new programs will push the health and school systems toward prevention to help address the social and economic issues driving the crisis.

The data is staggering. Youth self-harm in California increased 50 percent between 2009 and 2018. COVID made it worse. The impact of the crisis is disproportionate as data show Black children have the highest rates of severe emotional disturbance. To add insult to injury, California ranks 48th in the country in terms of youth access to mental health care.

Jevon Wilkes, Director of Youth Engagement with the California Children’s Trust and Executive Director of the California Coalition for Youth (CCY), has helped California’s movement to center schools in reimagining youth mental health care, making it possible for teens to be part of what he calls the “protective team factor” that supports other youth who are peers. 

Young people working with the CCT/CCY Youth Advisory Board (YAB) successfully lobbied the California legislature to spark interest in peer-led programs, which led to a $10 million investment to explore the expansion of peer-to-peer programs across the state.


California Children’s Trust

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Principal, California Children’s Trust: Alex Briscoe


The California Children’s Trust is committed to working together to reinvent our state’s approach to children’s social, emotional, and developmental health. We are a statewide initiative that seeks to improve child well-being through policy and systems reform.

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“It’s our responsibility to set up the next generation with the mental health tools they need to succeed at school and in life. SB 803 is a great step forward in the peer-to-peer world but it needs to be followed up with more legislation that includes youth under 18 at the high school level.”
Sriya Chilla
Freshman at UCLA, CCT Youth Advisory Board member

Supercharged Impact

The California Children’s Trust is a time-bound initiative supercharged by partnerships with youth leaders and community-based organizations who are positioned to advance CCT’s work after the initiative sunsets at the end of 2024.

Over the next two years, if Principal Alex Briscoe and the team are right, California will be well on its way towards robust, generational support for children’s social and emotional well-being.

Key Supporters

  • Catherine Teare
  • California Health Care Foundation
    Kimberly Ricketts
  • Casey Family Programs
    Elizabeth Cheung
  • Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
    Deborah Kong
  • David and Lucile Packard Foundation
    Sarah Crow
  • First 5 Policy Center
    Rajni Dronamraju and
    Elizabeth Hawkins
  • Genentech
    September Jarrett
  • Heising-Simons Foundation
    Pedro Arista
  • Hellman Foundation
    Cecilia Oregon
  • Kaiser Permanente Institute for
    Health Policy Studies
    Lisa Stone Pritzker
  • Lisa Stone Pritzker Foundation
    Kim Belshe
  • Los Angeles First 5
    Shirin Vakarhia
  • Marin Community Foundation
    Chandrika Zager
  • Marin County Behavioral Health
    Jay Liao
  • Our Children Our Families Council
    Chevon Kothari
  • Sacramento County Health
    Care Services Agency
    Katie Albright
  • Safe and Sound
    Theresa Ziguera
  • San Francisco First 5
    Thanh Do
  • Santa Clara First 5
    Dan Tuttle
  • Stupski Foundation
    Susannah Sarlo
  • The Susie Sarlo Foundation
    Dr. Anda Kuo
  • UCSF Center for Child and
    Community Health
    Amy Price
  • Zellerbach Family Foundation
    Jenn Tracey
  • Zero to Three