PED awards funds to support mental health services in public schools

By: - September 7, 2021 2:08 pm

(Getty Images)

Three New Mexico school districts were awarded $8.9 million to build resources to support mental health for students.

Farmington Municipal Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools and Socorro Consolidated Schools were picked by the state’s Public Education Department to establish mental health service programs staffed by behavioral health specialists within the schools.

Funding comes through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant, which we believe will show that spending on preventative mental health care at the front end of a child’s life prevents more extensive interventions later in life,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “Children need these services. Families need these services. Communities need these services.” 

The grant is part of the federal program Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education (AWARE). 

Money will be distributed to the three school districts to support a five-year plan to establish the services. 

To qualify, schools must be able to connect students with behavioral health specialists such as psychologists, counselors and social workers. Districts will also need to show they’ve improved access to culturally competent community-based health services, do routine and direct outreach to families about services, and “equip schools with the ability to immediately respond to the needs of youth” who exhibit signs of behavioral or psychological issues that are severe enough to indicate they need intervention.

The districts have 60-days to submit a behavioral health disparities impact statement.

PED said it picked the three districts based on demographics, location and existing mental health services. At least one-third of the students in each district report English as their second language and their child poverty rates are above the state average. 

A recent survey of New Mexico teachers shows some support for mental health services in schools but a need for consistency.

“Teachers are still concerned about providing ongoing support for all students to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and address other mental health challenges,” according to the report from Teach Plus New Mexico.

More than half of the 149 teachers who participated in the survey said their schools prioritize mental health, and they are comfortable hosting discussions around the topic. But a restructuring would benefit students, they said, and it starts with hiring more social workers and counselors. 

“Attention to mental health should be a key component of the educational plans,” the report states. “The educational environment is no longer a place to only meet the academic needs of students, but a place to meet the academic and mental health needs of all students.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.