Our communities are in crisis.
Experts have declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health, and parents/caregivers, educators, and mental health professionals alike are overwhelmed and on the verge of burnout.
While there have been strong steps taken to improve access to mental health supports at school in DC, far too many families are not aware or able to receive the support that they need.
An education system that prioritizes student mental health and wellness where all students and their families have readily accessible, high-quality school-based mental health services, supports, and education and is responsive to student needs.
Foundational Policy Solutions for RIGHT NOW:
- Generate a comprehensive map of what mental health needs and supports currently exist in each school, including a corresponding gap analysis, and make it public to help create a comprehensive and long-term plan for the future.
- This should build off of existing data and information (like the School Strengthening Tool, Panorama survey, DC Student Wellbeing survey, YRBS, and DC School Report Card) and consider new, innovative models to capture a holistic picture.
- Provide $300,000 to fund a cost study to determine the true cost of expanding the school-based behavioral health program now and in the future.
- This includes determining how the needs of individual schools, providers, and communities impact program costs.
- Families should be included in the design of the needs assessment and the plan to share it publicly.
- The Deputy Mayor of Education (DME) and the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) should develop clear, publicly transparent, and strong accountability systems for any agency/organization providing mental health supports in schools in partnership with families and youth.
- This includes, but is not limited to, groups providing technical assistance for social emotional learning and trauma-informed training as well as those that are providing mental health services in schools.
- These systems should be responsive, collaborative, and focused on continuous improvement.
- At minimum, these accountability systems should create a process for individual schools, agencies, and community-based providers to:
- Clearly show how much funding is spent on mental health supports, the impact/results of those investments, and the alignment of supports to the demonstrated need in different school communities.
- Evaluate how well agencies are coordinating with one another to enhance the quality and level of care in schools and implementing practices for engaging parents, families, and communities in the development of the school culture and the implementation of mental health supports.
- Demonstrate how a diversity of family, student, and stakeholder voices are included in the implementation and evaluation of mental health services, staff, systems, and funding.
- Collect and share data on how well schools are retaining mental health staff.
- This work must ensure structures and policies are in place to eliminate barriers to supporting students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
- Accountability requirements should be efficient and minimize the burden on schools and providers so they can focus on services to families.
Long-Term Policy Solutions:
- Adjust community-based organization (CBO) grants for inflation to place clinicians in schools ($2.4 million).
- This increase in funding should be sustainable to ensure that the program will be able to respond to inflation, increased costs of care, and anticipate higher needs as the pandemic continues to persist.
- In future years, invest in more than one clinician per school (based on need) per results of cost study and needs assessment.
- Create partnerships with surrounding colleges and universities to incentivize mental health professionals to serve in our schools.
- Prioritize recruitment and retention of mental health professionals that look like and come from the communities they will serve.
- Explore “grow-your-own” programs to recruit native Washingontians and engage students in career opportunities before graduation.
- The Community of Practice needs adequate funding to:
- Share ideas and best practices on how to consistently and meaningfully engage families in the development of the school culture and implementation of mental health support.
- Provide ongoing cultural competency and anti-bias training.
- Support school-level teams that include parents and students to create and implement school wellness plans.
- Bring families into the CoP to share their experiences and what works with parent engagement and education.
- Increase funding for schools so that all school staff (teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, etc.) are trained in the science of how brains develop and function and trauma-informed, restorative practices.
- Training should include how mental health can manifest in many different ways, especially across cultures and age-levels.
- Ensure school staff receive ongoing coaching and support to quickly identify needs and implement those practices/support collaboratively with students and parents.
- Create standards and create effective systems for agencies to collaborate in order to enhance the quality and level of care in schools, including but not limited to primary care providers, private hospitals, Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE), District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), public charter school Local Education Agencies (LEA), the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB), Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), and the Department of Health (DoH).
- Coordination should also include practices that focus on:
- Improving mental health staff retention
- Appropriate and effective mental health staff-to-student ratios
- Prioritizing consistent services beyond one-time crisis response
- Clarity regarding which agencies/institutions are accountable for effective implementation
- Referring/connecting parents to external counseling services for their own mental health.
- The city also should work together with all stakeholders to improve coordination and communication of services and support at the school level, including providing resources and support for school mental health teams and a school mental health team coordinator.