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Delivering mental health care to kids in school

A Kaiser Permanente Northern California grant supports a state nonprofit helping schools provide mental health care.

Every day in California, thousands of children — especially within underserved communities — go to school with physical and mental health concerns that affect their well-being.

As part of its work to improve access to mental health services in the community, Kaiser Permanente Northern California works with schools and districts to provide care to students where they spend most of their time — school.

Last year, Kaiser Permanente Northern California awarded a $200,000 grant to the California School-Based Health Alliance (CSHA). The statewide nonprofit, located in Oakland, California, partners with a large network of schools to improve access to physical and mental health care.

“The pandemic greatly highlighted the need for mental health services in school,” said Marcel Reynolds, communications director of CSHA. “Not every young person is able or wants to receive services in a traditional way. We are meeting them in a way that works for them.”

The grant supports the implementation and expansion of 100 school-based mental health services centers throughout California that will provide technical assistance, training, or consultative assistance by CSHA. It also supports telehealth training for at least 100 school health stakeholders.

Bolstering youth mental health care in Fresno

The CSHA has a longstanding partnership with the health services team of the Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, which provides physical and mental health support to more than 200,000 students throughout Fresno.

CSHA works with the county’s behavioral youth program All 4 Youth to help provide in-person mental health services to students at on campus school-based health centers.

All 4 Youth has a 112-person staff, including 91 licensed marriage and family therapists and licensed clinical social workers. These staff members, educators in Fresno, and leadership attended multiple virtual events hosted by CSHA.

The events included a suicide prevention webinar, a 3-day virtual conference that included training on Adverse Childhood Experiences screening, and an in-person statewide conference that shared information on how schools can tap into new state funds for behavioral health services.

“It’s undeniable how much help our students need,” said Trish Small, senior director, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools. “Having clinicians on campus has been key to reducing stigma, getting kids connected to resources, and contributing to their overall health.”

“It’s clear that teens and young adults have shouldered a significant mental health impact during the pandemic through the 2 years of disrupted learning, which created a barrier to in-school mental health supports,” said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs. “By supporting vital mental health and wellness resources in school-based health centers, we are creating a stronger mental and emotional foundation for our young people.” 

Peer-to-peer support

The Kaiser Permanente Northern California grant also supported the implementation of a peer-to-peer mentoring program in more than 10 school-based health centers statewide.

CSHA trained staff on how to create a culture of youth empowerment through peer-to-peer mentorship in which older students connect with younger ones.

“Students can talk to a counselor about their struggles, but often feel more comfortable with someone their own age with whom they can more closely relate,” Reynolds said, adding that the program has received very positive student feedback.

Tackling pandemic challenges

Although most kids are back in school, the nearly 2 years of disrupted learning had a profound impact on the mental well-being of young people and school staff.

Last year, CSHA guided the James Morehouse Project through its transition to telehealth. The wellness center in El Cerrito High School that provides crisis support and intervention, therapy, and medical care was able to seamlessly transition all its mental health services to digital to reach students at home.

“The California School-Based Health Alliance was a guiding light for us,” said Jenn Rader, director of the James Morehouse Project. “We received a tremendous amount of knowledge from their telehealth webinars and technical support.”

Explore how Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools is supporting the total health of schools and districts.

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