Today the Senate unanimously approved Sen. Sharon Brown’s bill to implement the Youth Empowered to Speak-up (YES) program statewide. Second Substitute Senate Bill 5327 would create a tip-line mobile app to allow students to confidentially report potential self-harm or criminal activities directed at schools, students or school employees.
“On Sunday, our community tragically lost yet another teenager to despair, when 17-year old Caelan Chastain of Richland took his own life,” said Brown, R-Kennewick. “We owe his family, and the families of other teen-suicide victims, not just our thoughts and prayers, but also our actions. We must take steps to help identify and prevent future youth suicides or acts of school violence in advance. This bill does exactly that.”
Brown’s measure is the culmination of more than two years of efforts among various stakeholders. In preparing this bill, she examined similar programs in other states, which have proven to be extremely effective at saving lives.
Under 2SSB 5327, the state Attorney General’s office would be responsible for receiving and responding to tips from the public regarding risks or potential risks to the safety or well-being of youth. Risks to safety or well-being may include, but are not limited to, harm or threats of harm to self or others, sexual abuse, assault, rape, bullying or cyberbullying, substance use, and criminal acts.
The YES program would provide a path for young people to make reports directly to either local law-enforcement or mental-health officials. Tip line personnel would be trained to determine appropriate responses in terms of crisis management and community resources for people experiencing mental illness or emotional disturbance.
Brown said that the need for the tip line has never been greater, given the isolation, depression and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent social unrest. She pointed to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control in November showing mental-health visits have made up a greater percentage of pediatric emergency-room visits during the pandemic. According to the report, during the height of the pandemic (mid-March through October, 2020) “the proportion of mental health–related (emergency department) visits increased sharply,” skyrocketing more than 30% among kids ages 12 to 17, compared to the same period in 2019.
“I am so grateful to my Senate colleagues for moving quickly to approve this much-needed tool to help protect our vulnerable youth,” Brown added. “I hope our friends in the House will move just as quickly to approve it in that chamber.”
Click here to watch a video of Sen. Brown discussing the bill with Kirk Williamson with the Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance and youth suicide prevention activist Connor Mertens of Kennewick, who originally brought the idea for the tip line to Brown’s attention.