Mental health providers from around the state will receive $33 million in state grants over the next three years to serve students in Minnesota's public schools.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services on Thursday announced the 57 recipients of its School-Linked Mental Health program, who collectively will serve more than half of the state's schools. The money — $11 million per year for each of the next three years — goes directly to the mental health professionals, who provide counseling and intervention services in school buildings.
Under the last round of grants, the program reached students in 953 schools, but the state expects that to be up to 1,200 by mid-2021. It will also now serve students in seven counties that it previously didn't reach: Roseau, Pennington, Stevens, Traverse, Faribault, Freeborn and Mower.
Addressing students' mental health care needs is essential for ensuring that students can focus on learning while in the classroom, Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said.
"We know that untreated mental health issues make it harder for kids to learn," Piper said in a news release. "Children need a good start, and if they get the right help at the right time, they can be successful in school and in life."
The school-based program, launched in 2006, aims to help schools and families identify and treat children with mental illness earlier and more effectively than they could do on their own. Mental health professionals in the schools provide assessments, set up regular counseling sessions and help ensure that teachers and other staff members know how to help. State officials say the program has helped identify students who would otherwise not have received treatment for mental illness and provide them with the support needed to keep them in school.
Over the years, the school-based services have been championed by both DFL and Republican state lawmakers. Increased funding has helped the program expand into more schools and reach more students, although some mental health advocates worry that stretching the funding further could cut into some services.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, said the program was originally designed to provide both direct counseling and assessment services for individual students and broader, school-wide training that equips teachers and other staff to support students with mental illnesses.
"Certainly the therapy is really important, but if you have therapy for a child but the teacher doesn't know how to address their anxiety and depression, they're not going to be successful while they're waiting for the therapy to kick in," she said.
Abderholden said Minnesota has taken important steps toward addressing students' mental health, including training for teachers in spotting mental health issues and in suicide prevention. She said her group will be at the State Capitol next year, urging lawmakers to continue to expand and support mental health services in schools.