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Grant could help SLO Co. fund mental health services for most middle school students

Posted at 5:29 AM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 12:50:20-05

Some higher risk middle school students in San Luis Obispo County receive mental health services that have positively impacted their academic performance and, if the county receives a grant, those services could be expanded to twice as many students.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to apply for the $4 million grant.

The County's Behavioral Health Department leaders are the ones asking Supervisors to approve the request.

The grant would expand the Students Assistance Program Team, which is available in six San Luis Obispo County middle schools. It's a group tasked with addressing the mental health needs of young, vulnerable students.

"Any time a young person is identified with any sort of risk -- maybe they haven't spoken in a few days, maybe they're sad, maybe they're acting out -- that team can wrap around the young person and find them the supports they might need, whether that's counseling, a referral to treatment, whatever that may be," Frank Warren, the department's vision manager of prevention and outreach, said.

That program has been in place now for 10 years.

County Behavioral Health officials say the impact of the mental health services is measurable: fewer in school suspensions, improved grades and attendance, a decline in the rate of suicide attempts.

"We know that in some situations, we can immediately intervene and decrease the chance of severe mental illness down the road, whether that's addressing depression and anxiety at a young age," Warren said. "There's other times where we can catch a person, just because of their natural development, this is the time where we can help them build coping schools where if something were to happen when they're a bit older, they'd have the skills to handle that kind of emotional change."

But the team has limitations. Given current funding, they only serve 52 percent, or 400, middle school students across 12 schools.

If the $4 million grant comes through, the program would cover 97 percent of students in grades six through eight by funding six full time behavioral health staff and three contracted staff. The grant would provide funding for four years.

That means resources could be extended to rural SLO County schools like Shandon and San Miguel.

If the County does not win the grant, Warren said his office intends to help schools find their own funding sources.