“Windshield time” is the term often used to describe a key barrier to kids getting or completing mental health care treatment. The energy and effort away from work responsibilities required for parents to drive children for diagnosis or therapy — appointments may stretch out over weeks or even longer — can be daunting, especially when treatment centers aren’t close by.
But thanks to pragmatic leadership by state policymakers, more Minnesota families will soon have a new, convenient place where they can choose to get this crucial care. It’s close to home and where kids already spend much of their day: their schools.
Building on Minnesota’s long legacy of pioneering medical care in schools, state lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton moved last year to double state resources over the next five years for what is known as “school-linked mental health care.” The state will spend about $45 million during this time to contract with community mental health organizations to bring a provider into schools. Services provided on-site, with parental consent, will include early intervention, therapy, and care coordination and referrals.
School-linked mental health care is not a new or an unproven concept. Since 2008, the state has spent $4.8 million a year on in-school services like this. And since 2005, some Minneapolis public school students have been able to access care on-site, thanks to a partnership among the school district, Hennepin County and five mental health agencies.
But in 2013, a bipartisan array of state policymakers supported strengthening investment in these effective programs. Funding increased to $7.2 million this year. It will rise to $9.6 million a year for the following four years.
The additional grants will expand services to cover about 35,000 students of all ages across the state — up from the 18,000 previously served. The new dollars also will bring these services to another 92 school districts. Students in “more than 800 schools across 257 school districts and 87 counties’’ will be able to access in-school mental health care, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
DHS just released the list of 36 organizations that will provide school-linked care. Among them: Amherst Wilder Foundation, Lee Carlson Center and the Washburn Center for Children.
While the spotlight is on the current legislative session’s frenzied last days, the announcement is a reminder that previous bipartisan collaboration will soon yield public health gains. The expanded funding is also a welcome investment in younger generations, something that needs to occur more consistently even as the graying wave of baby boomers dominates health and human services funding debates.
This is a smart place to put public dollars because there’s strong evidence that these programs work. According to the University of Maryland’s Center for School Mental Health, studies show that programs like Minnesota’s lead to increases in reading and math test scores, improved school attendance, and reduced behavioral and emotional symptoms.
Data from the Minneapolis schools program indicate that this service decreased school suspensions and office referrals and that it increased attendance. Statewide data also suggest that many kids getting care had never received mental health services previously, but that nevertheless had significant mental health needs.
School-linked mental health care “really works to get access to students and families who for a number of different reasons aren’t able to access community-based care or stay engaged in care,’’ said Mark Sander, a Hennepin County senior clinical psychologist who works jointly with the county and the Minneapolis public schools as a mental health care coordinator.
The scale of funding puts Minnesota at the forefront nationally of providing access to mental health care in schools. Kids who get the care they need can become better students. That’s in everyone’s interest. “This is a way of saving us money down the road,’’ said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s health commissioner. “The longer we keep kids in school … the more likely they are to graduate and become taxpayers and good citizens.’’