New Resource Provides Expert Guidance on Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems

Bethesda, Maryland (September 18, 2019) — Positive mental health can have a significant impact on a child’s academic performance and overall well-being. A national team of mental health experts, including the Bainum Family Foundation, today released a new resource that calls for: 

  • Offering comprehensive mental health services and resources in a place that’s already central to the lives of children and families: schools 
  • Taking a public health approach to school mental health by focusing on prevention and early identification of mental health and substance abuse concerns, not just treatment of them 

The insights offered in “Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: Guidance From the Field” are designed to promote positive school climate and safetystrengthen social and emotional learning, and foster mental health and general well-being, while reducing the prevalence and severity of mental illness. The document also conveys the urgent need to act now to ensure that integrating comprehensive, high-quality school mental health systems into all U.S. schools becomes standard practice. 

“Too often school mental health strategies are fragmented or created in response to a crisis,” says Sharon Hoover, PhD, Co-Director of the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And those seeking positive change for their states, school districts or communities find the available resources overwhelming or confusing. This resource brings together — in a brief, straightforward way — what we collectively know about successful school mental health and the key indicators of quality.” 

The authors of this resource are recognized leaders in advancing the well-being of children, youth and young adults in schools and communities. Federal partners include the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nonfederal partners include the Bainum Family Foundation; Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, George Washington University; Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, Inc.; National Association of State Directors of Special Education; National Center for School Mental Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine; and the School-Based Health Alliance. 

To fully capture current knowledge and best practices in the field, the partners convened three expert panels between late 2017 and June 2018 (representing another 75 individuals from federal departments/agencies, states, school districts/schools, universities and other organizations, such as nonprofits and funders), and also held sessions at conferences addressing child and adolescent mental health, including the Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental in both 2017 and 2018.  

Written for state leaders, policy makers, school administrators, teachers, youth, families, child and family advocates, funders and businesses seeking to make a positive difference for students, the resource addresses: 

  • The value and impact of effective school mental health 
  • The current state of the school mental health field 
  • Core features of comprehensive school mental health systems 
  • Recommended strategies for improving quality, scaling up and fostering the widescale adoption of comprehensive school mental health systems 
  • Insights on tailoring systems to the needs/resources of a school, district or community 
  • State and local spotlights representing significant progress on school mental health 

“Along with private practitioners and community-based services, schools can be an important part of the solution for providing vital mental health services and supports for children,” says Olga Acosta Price, PhD, Director of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University. “An essential value of the comprehensive school mental health systems described in this new report is their focus on prevention and early identification of issues, not just treatment of them when they become more severe. All children have mental health and social/emotional needs, and all of them can benefit from these school-based supports.” 

For more than 50 years, the Bainum Family Foundation has played a significant role in improving the well-being of children and families in the Washington, D.C., area and beyond. 

“We’re excited to be part of this national effort to advance and champion comprehensive school mental health systems because healthy social and emotional development provides the necessary foundation for children to learn, grow and thrive, both in school and in life,” says Jacquelyn Davis, the Foundation’s CEO and President. “Through this partnership and our work here in the District to pilot effective school-based mental health models, we hope to expand the field’s knowledge and adoption of effective practices to improve outcomes for children.” 

“Advancing Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems: Guidance From the Field” is available at insights from the document also will be shared and discussed at the 2019 Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental, November 7-9 in Austin, Texas. 


Ann Egan 
Senior Director of Communications 
Bainum Family Foundation 
240 450 0027 

Comprehensive School Mental Health Case Example 

The North Carolina School Mental Health Initiative (NC SMHI) is a statewide partnership of families, students, public school representatives, communitybased mental health clinicians, North Carolina state department officials, advocates, university faculty, justice system representatives and others. Its mission is to develop recommendations for and support implementation of policy and/or legislative changes to ensure that public school students in North Carolina have equitable access to a full continuum of high-quality and well-coordinated mental health services. 

According to Lauren Holahan, PhD, Coordinator for SSIP, Medicaid and School Mental Health in the NC Department of Public Instruction, Exceptional Children Division, multiple factors provided an impetus for action: an overall lack of mental health resources for students across the state; high suicide rates among young people ages 13 to 17; calls for help from school districts seeking effective models for school mental health; and input from families (via a 2016 statewide needs assessment) conveying their difficulty navigating the existing mental health system and finding entry points. 

The collaborative effort, launched in 2015, has resulted in a SAMHSA Project AWARE federal grant to fund a demonstration project involving three North Carolina school districts. The project focuses on creating school mental health models and building overall capacity to address students’ social, emotional and behavioral needs.