Mental health investments paving new paths forward

A Sept. 15 webinar, “Investing in Mental Health,” hosted by the California Department of Education,  covered topics including how interagency collaboration can help schools with mental health services, building a school-based metal health workforce, measuring the impact of current investments, and initiatives that are taking place at the local and state level.

As Deputy Secretary of Behavioral Health at California Health and Human Services Agency Stephanie Welch explained, a collaborative relationship between behavioral health and education systems is in the best interest of students and families.

“We are at a point in which we have had the largest investment in behavioral health in our state’s history and it is the most imperative thing to make sure that we collectively identify what we want to accomplish and that we measure it together,” Welch said.

Following decades of underinvestment, the pandemic and its impact on the well-being and mental health of young Californians put a new focus on care like prevention and early intervention. Along with more than $4 billion in investments going into the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, there are also significant investments in transforming the Medi-Cal system, making it easier to use with less administrative work and more services available to young people and adults.

Welch spoke about investments in the behavioral health workforce as well, something Sacramento County Office of Education is pondering as it works to house a mental health clinician on each of the 300 campuses in the county.

Sacramento COE Superintendent David Gordon said 20 schools currently have on-site clinicians as the rollout progressively takes place. The project is sustainably funded by “billing back to Medi-Cal” as officials move to “turn our schools into centers of wellness.”

In addition to continued social-emotional learning, the COE is looking to amplify youth voices. The county is creating a Youth Mental Health Board of 14- to 22-year-olds to advise stakeholders. A professional preparation pipeline is also being developed.

“We’re working on plans for a pipeline which starts with career technical education programs in high schools, goes through community college and 4-year college into professional training but has supports for young people who don’t have an ability to assume $100,000 in loans,” Gordon said. “We’ll have them working as mentors and throughout the system to be able to support themselves while they go through the pipeline. Hopefully they will come back and work for us and in this group will be many young people of color and we’ll diversify our workforce in that way.”

Connecting with each other and community resources

“In our schools, absolutely, we are seeing the trauma of our students, our families and our staff,” said Mara Madrigal-Weiss, the executive director of Student Wellness and School Culture at San Diego COE.

Getting supports in place as soon as possible for all parties, including staff, is key, she noted.

As common issues are being identified in a service-area, resources should also be determined. This can be done by building relationship across systems and having conversations with groups like county behavioral health departments, COEs and community-based organizations to know what supports already exist.

Local educational agencies can also look to each other for inspiration and advice, too.

“We brought together COEs across the state and formed a Student Mental Health and Wellness Collaborative so we’re sharing best practices,” Madrigal-Weiss noted.

Students should not be forgotten as LEAs build mental health awareness and literacy among staff. Youth need to be equipped with resources as well to help friends and classmates.

The webinar, viewable on the CDE’s Facebook page, also featured a presentation from Orange County Department of Education Associate Superintendent Dr. Christine Olmstead on multi-tiered systems of support.