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Grants could expand mental health care for children at schools

Providing mental health care for children at their schools not only simplifies transportation for families and gives parents and children an easy, accessible place to turn, it also reduces stigma associated with treatment, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s state chapter.

School-linked mental health grants have helped connect children with mental health workers at their schools since the grant program was established in 2007 and expanded in 2013, but additional funding is needed to continue the expansion, advocates say.

HF960 would appropriate $4 million in the 2018-19 biennium to do just that, said bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley).

The House Health and Human Services Finance Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. It has no Senate companion.

Community-based mental health care providers who operate in schools bill both private insurance companies and public programs to cover treatment, but are reimbursed for non-billable services through grant funding, which increases access for underinsured and uninsured students, Abderholden said.

Many students who are treated would not have received help without the grant program, and nearly half are receiving services for the first time, said Mark Sander, a Hennepin County senior clinical psychologist.

“These programs are critical for children and families,” especially those with lower incomes, Sander said.

Schools have noted fewer suspensions, fewer disciplinary referrals, and narrowing mental health disparities, while parents have reported higher student involvement, more interest in school, a greater sense of belonging, and improved relationships with school staff, said Sander and Tom Belcher, CFO of Greater Minnesota Family Services.

The appropriation sought would allow school districts without mental health programs to establish them, serve more students in districts with existing programs and help students get to and from appointments if they need to continue a course of treatment into the summer.

Programs that provide early intervention help the state get the best “bang for our buck,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), adding that the children’s school-linked mental health grants were particularly efficient in providing care and reducing the travel time for families. 

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