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 Rising rates of youth depression, anxiety, behaviorally defined disorders like ADHD and ODD, substance use disorders, and suicide threaten the health, safety and wellbeing of youth. Meanwhile, mental health professionals remain a critical missing resource in many of our schools. Through the Safer Students, Stronger Schools (4S) initiative, CISDR has identified — and is addressing — the fundamental issue of mental health distress among our students, and how it impacts their educational opportunities and ability to live productive and fulfilled lives. CISDR’s placement of mental health professionals on school campuses, along with the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training component provides a systematic, data-driven approach to tackling these issues and changing the short and long-term outcomes for identified students, their families, and our community.

The Safer Students, Stronger Schools initiative focuses on ameliorating the access barriers to mental health treatment, housing these resources in the school itself. Transportation issues, health insurance coverage, limitations posed by hours of operation conflicting with work and school hours, as well as financial constraints are eliminated for students and their parents when mental health interventions are located on school campuses. By situating high quality, trained mental health professionals within schools, focusing first on the highest need campuses and eventually fanning out to serve all schools in our service network, this approach also reduces the stigma associated with seeking mental health intervention.

Some school districts in Texas have as many as 7,000 students to just one mental health professional, far exceeding the recommended ratio of 1,000 to one. Through Safer Students, Stronger Schools, CISDR high need schools may receive a trained and licensed mental health professional at a fraction of the annual cost, allowing more schools access to this critical resource that they would not have otherwise. These professionals work closely with students who either self-refer or have been referred by their peers, parents, or school due to a combination of behavior, attendance and academic performance indicators. Each Site Coordinator has a caseload of up to 100 students on the campus they serve, and are tasked with creating and executing an individualized success plan for each student. They provide an important emotional resiliency curriculum in concert with mental health professionals to help build positive minds and mental health and wellbeing practices. Now, they will also have the resources of clinical staff to provide direct mental health services to students facing trauma, who require ongoing mental health services, as well as more general programming dedicated to fostering resilience and developing coping skills.