One of the chief barriers to creating comprehensive systems of school-based mental health services is identifying funding streams that support interventions throughout the three tiers of intervention – from school-wide support to intensive treatment services. After time-limited grants help build out a system, what resources are available to sustain the services and initiative?
Schools and community providers do not have the resources to sustain school mental health services on their own. No single entity (school, or community, or county) can provide the whole range of comprehensive services, for all students. Trust, partnerships, coordination, and community buy-in will help entities bring together resources to build out a comprehensive system of services.
Also, there is not a national or state model for how to fund these services. While available funding is largely federal and state, many decisions about how to use funding and what services to prioritize happen at the local level. So, there may be examples of how different counties and school districts across California sustain mental health services, however there is not one “best” way to sustain these services.
The resources in this section will help you (1) learn about the funding streams that are available to sustain school mental health services. While they will not tell you exactly how you should use these them, the resources will help you develop a general understanding of what funding streams are available and what partnerships are necessary to leverage that funding for school-based services. And (2) learn about what others have done to sustain school mental health programs. County demographics, strengths, and challenges vary considerably. What works in one place may not work in another (i.e. heavily leveraging Medi-Cal reimbursement). However, there are innovative and varying sustainability strategies to garner inspiration from.
Other overall recommendations to consider while identifying your sustainability plan:
- Investing funding and resources in school and district coordination creates critical infrastructure to leverage outside resources. This can sometimes run counter to the immense need we see in schools for direct services for students – why spend critical resources on staff that are not providing direct services to students? However, when schools invest in this infrastructure, they can be better positioned to navigate various community providers who may be able to draw down additional, and often more restrictive, funding.
- Utilize flexible funding streams to fill in the gaps between services that are sustained by more restrictive funding sources. There are funding streams that are more restrictive (i.e. they can only be used for specific services provided by select providers for a certain group of students) but, there are also funding streams that are more flexible. For example, you can utilize flexible funding for services for non-Medi-Cal students, staff training and prevention services that are critical to the success of a school mental health initiative, and to support coordination across providers and teams.
- Investing in tier 1 (schoolwide prevention) and tier 2 (targeted interventions) are just as important as investing in traditional, one-on-one mental health inventions (tier 3). Tier 1 investments lay the foundation for a comprehensive school mental health system and Tier 2 services provide important prevention and early intervention services that can mitigate the need for more intensive mental health supports that we see in Tier 3.
If you are benefiting from a grant to build out your school mental health initiative, use that time-limited grant to create a “runway” to sustainability. Use grant funding to support your services and staff as you identify and address billing and reimbursement challenges and build outcomes of interest that may bring in new partners and/or additional funding.
Updated for 2022! A resource that outlines and explains the public mental health funding streams (on the education side and health care side) in California that can support the full continuum of school-based mental health services. (California School-Based Health Alliance)
A guide for school district leaders interested in exploring partnerships and accessing Medi-Cal to meet the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students in schools. (California Children’s Trust and Breaking Barriers)
This resource highlights Alameda County’s efforts to leverage multiple funding streams to invest in school-based behavioral health. (Alameda County Center for Healthy Schools and Communities)