MHA Funding Helps Curb Student Behavioral Problems, Transforms Mental Health Programs in 3 Districts

 

With limited resources and often overwhelming demands, many schools struggle to meet the behavioral health needs of their students.   In order to help school districts better address these issues, Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA) led the Harris County School Behavioral Health Collaborative, a year-long, community-wide initiative aimed at ensuring students are identified early and able to receive needed services.  The initiative convened school district personnel, behavioral health providers, child-serving and education-related agencies, and parents to develop recommendations to improve the prevention, identification, and treatment of behavioral health issues among students.

In the summer of 2013, MHA granted funds to three school districts to implement selected initiatives from the School Behavioral Health Collaborative Recommendations.  Recipients included Channelview ISD, Goose Creek ISD, and Spring Branch ISD.

Dedicated to providing a “navigator” to help coordinate behavioral health interventions and referrals, Channelview ISD used the funds to hire an additional Community Youth Services (CYS) worker in their district.  According to Special Services Director Gloria Roach, the MHA grant resulted in an estimated 300 families receiving services vital to the physical, emotional and mental health of their children, along with essential training for staff members who serve them. Ms. Roach stated, “MHA saved the day, enabling us to deliver a desperately needed service.  Without the CYS worker, parents were lost trying to navigate behavioral health services for their children.  The MHA grant allowed us to remove those obstacles and provide a critical link in the chain that gets kids to the services they need.”

In Goose Creek ISD (GCISD), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) was initiated district-wide, using MHA grant funds to pay for training.  One hundred fifteen (115) staff members received two days of PBIS training, and teams were formed at each campus to train faculty on-site.  As a result, every campus in Goose Creek is in the process of implementing the framework school-wide.  Although PBIS is preventative in nature, designed to help students’ master self-discipline and minimize behavioral health issues, improved supports for students whose behaviors require more specialized assistance (e.g., emotional and behavioral disorders, mental health) are also provided.  As such, over 350 students have been referred for special education and mental health consultations since the MHA grant was operationalized.

Transitioning students gained an advocate through the MHA grant to Spring Branch ISD (SBISD). The district hired a specialist to coordinate service plans for students transitioning back to their home campus after an alternative placement. The specialist establishes communication systems and assigns a mentor at the home campus before a student returns.  SBISD administrators also launched a district-wide System of Care initiative, in which outside providers deliver services such as peer groups, support groups, and counseling.  The district has seen amazing results from their initiative, recording a decrease of disciplinary referrals from 13,164 in 2012-13 to 5,896 in 2013-2014 (to date).

Long term, SBISD plans to hire a Behavior Support Director, who will oversee 3 or 4 case managers working with teachers to manage problem behaviors, with the goal of “preventing fires” at the elementary level rather than trying to “put them out” when kids reach secondary school age.  Sofia Petrou, Executive Director for Secondary Administrative Services, credits MHA as a catalyst in “providing transformative resources and connections for the district to develop a model system of care for meeting the behavioral needs of our students.”

For more information about the School Behavioral Health Initiative at Mental Health America of Greater Houston contact the manager/consultant Janet Pozmantier at sbhmanager@mhahouston.org/.

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