Building on our commitment to improve the lives of children and families living in poverty in the District of Columbia’s Wards 7 and 8, the Foundation today announced investments of $4.1 million to expand school mental health services in these wards. This work will help us meet our 2020 strategic goal of adding 2,000 wrap-around support seats in Wards 7 and 8 to increase students’ social-emotional well-being, while sharing knowledge and lessons learned with the mental health field. It also complements our existing investments in early learning and food access for these same neighborhoods.
Conducted in partnership with the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS), part of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, this effort began in 2016 with a comprehensive needs assessment in the District and a year-long learning partnership with two District charter schools (DC Prep and Monument Academy).
Findings of our initial work supported the development of a three-year strategy to increase mental health supports available to children and families in Wards 7 and 8 and to advance the overall field of school mental health. The strategy, which is being launched this Fall, includes:
- Identifying a group of four charter elementary and middle schools in Wards 7 and 8 to participate in a Community of Practice. CHHCS will provide three years of training and technical assistance in the areas of mental health data, coordination and universal prevention as each school implements best practices tailored to its unique needs and then evaluates outcomes.
- Convening and leading a District-wide Learning Community of local school mental health stakeholders (practitioners, researchers, policy makers and school administrators) to leverage existing expertise and coordinate and share resources. The group will launch in January and meet monthly.
- Working with national partners — including CHHCS; the Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — to connect and convene national experts to advance school mental health. The goal of these meetings is to discuss local, state and federal strategies to strengthen the availability and quality of school mental health services for children, youth and families. The first of a series of meetings took place in D.C. in September 2017. The Foundation will be a key partner in gathering and disseminating relevant information to help strengthen the field.
Why school mental wellness? Our mission is to support the whole child to help them thrive. This needs to include comprehensive supports to address children’s social and emotional development. Schools are an effective way to deliver such services because they already play a central role in the lives of children and families.
Nisha Sachdev, DrPH, PsyD, our Senior Director of Evaluation, notes that mental health experts have coalesced around the evidence-based practices that produce the best outcomes in school settings. “The field knows what it takes to be effective; now it’s a matter of building scale and access and helping schools tailor programs to their specific needs,” she said. “Mental health services need to be an integrated and integral part of every educational environment. Children cannot succeed academically unless their social and emotional development needs are being addressed.”