Official touts school mental health program

The school Mental Health Intervention Program approved by the Legislature in 2018 received high praise this week.

Kathy Mosher, executive director of the Central Kansas Mental Health Center, said the program — linking schools and community mental health centers — has helped students and communities.

“What an ingenious idea,” Mosher told the Legislative Budget Committee on Wednesday. “There is a lot of good coming out of that.”

Because of the program, Mosher’s organization has been able to expand services to ensure students receive mental health help close to home, so they don’t miss school, she said. Of the students receiving assistance, the vast majority have improved behaviors, academic performance and school attendance, she said.

The mental health center, based in Salina, has expanded teacher training in trauma, suicide prevention, vaping cessation and cyberbullying and has opened a four-bed youth crisis facility, she said.  The center also started therapeutic pre-school for ages three and four because Mosher said she has heard from teachers that it is the children entering kindergarten who sometimes are the most aggressive.

The program started last year after the Legislature approved $10 million for a one-year pilot program that went toward a limited number of school districts to help treat the behavioral health needs of students.

Nine districts benefited from the program in the first year. They were Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, Garden City, Parsons, Abilene, Chapman, Herington and Solomon. Those districts partnered with their local Community Mental Health Centers to identify students in need and help families connect with services. A key component of the partnerships are the liaisons employed by the districts who serve as the conduit with the CMHCs.

In 2019, the Legislature extended the program another year. Now, 32 school districts are participating and the number of school buildings being served has increased from 82 to 180.

The program does face several challenges. More districts probably haven’t signed up because it has been funded on a year-to-year appropriation approved by legislators late in the school year. In addition, Mosher said there is a need for more therapists, psychiatrists and an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates, which haven’t been increased
in 11 years.

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