ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball today announced that every student in Howard County Public Schools will have access to mental health services for at least the next two years. Howard County has committed $2.1 million to expand a school-based mental health program to all 77 public schools and to subsidize mental health resources in the community for vulnerable youth. Photos of the event can be found here.
Even before the pandemic exacerbated this crisis, we recognized the gap in mental health services, especially for our students and young residents. Every Howard County student - which means nearly 58,000 kids in every school - will now have access to mental health services. Additionally, with this funding we’re filling the gap for children and families who are historically have difficulty accessing this critical, live-saving mental health care. Everyone deserves the same access to mental health care. Our actions, at the individual level and the government level, can make a difference and save lives.
School-Based Mental Health Program (SBMHS)
A total of $1.7 million will expand the School-Based Mental Health program for the next two years to all 77 public schools. Howard County contributed $980,000 in American Rescue Plan funding, with additional contributions being made by The Horizon Foundation and The Kahlert Foundation.
SBMHS makes social workers available in HCPSS schools to increase access to student mental health services. Research shows that the availability of school-based mental health services reduces barriers to care with more than 70% of children nationally receiving mental health care in school settings. The program is also meant to create a school culture that is accepting of mental health and acknowledges the impact of trauma on students.
In the 2019-20 school year, the program served 15 elementary schools, nine middle schools, five high schools, and one education center (middle and high school students) out of 77 total schools in the district. During the program, 58% of students referred to SBMHS were connected with a community mental health provider and referred students attended 90% of their scheduled appointments with community providers. The program also saw positive outcomes with improved attendance, academic growth, improved social-emotional skills, and reduced discipline referrals.
HoCo STRIVES Mental Health Initiatives
County Executive Ball has included $380,000 in his proposed fiscal year 2023 budget to expand mental health services to the most vulnerable students and families through HoCo STRIVES. HoCo STRIVES is the umbrella for several initiatives that engage a cross-sector of partners to ensure all Howard County children and youth can succeed in school. Its goal is to remove barriers and increase access for vulnerable families.
Now STRIVES can also support specific barriers to mental health access – providing targeted case management, transportation to therapy, a parent-coaching program, support for under and uninsured families and those that need intensive case.
- Building Youth Resiliency: serving kids who are unable to access treatment due to cost, transportation, and other socioeconomic barriers.
- Psychiatric Rehab Program: supporting under or uninsured youth in need of mental health services.
- Parent Coaching Program: designed to engage parents in understanding their child’s social and mental health needs and learn parenting strategies to meet these needs.
- Evidence-Based Practices Program: train providers so they can become certified in child- and family-focused clinical intervention programs.
- Early Childhood Professionals Mental Health Capacity Building: support a year-long suite of professional training opportunities geared toward 3 major groups: Professionals, Community Members, and Youth
Mental Health Needs
In recent years, several local and national surveys of youth have shown major increases in the rate of experience mental health symptoms:
- In 2018, a Howard County survey found that 28% of high school students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more.
- 1 in 6 high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide.
COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented challenges for youth, surveys from 2021 by the Maryland Department of Health found:
- 36% of Maryland high school students have felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks in a row the past year.
- 1 in 5 high school students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months – and this was disproportionately high for Black students (37%) and LGBT students (57%).
In early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time in early 2019.
Enhanced mental health supports was something I prioritized upon my return to Howard County as Superintendent, and I am pleased that over the past five years we have made significant strides in adding these critical supports to our schools. Just this year, we added an additional 20 new positions to providing mental health support for students, including social worker, counseling, and liaison positions. The past two years have been challenging for all of us and we know students are no exception. I am grateful for Dr. Calvin Ball, the Horizon Foundation, our County’s Health Department, and the Board of Education, for prioritizing mental health access for our students.
"We hear regularly from school-based staff that children are struggling. Anxiety, depression, fear, and a host of other issues are impacting our children’s ability to learn, and we cannot expect them to thrive academically until we tend to their social-emotional and mental health needs," said HCPSS Board Chair Vicky Cutroneo. "The school board has prioritized funding for an expansion of school-based mental health services in this year’s budget. I am grateful that our county partners understand they also have an important role to play and doing so on behalf of children."
“The pain that many are feeling is clear and real. The past two years have been more than hard for a number of people in our community,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “As a result of the partnership and investments of the County Government, the Board of Education, the Health Department, the School System, Head Start, the Kahlert Foundation and the Horizon Foundation, progress is being made. We will ensure that every child, no matter what school they attend, no matter what neighborhood they come from, will have access to the enhanced mental health supports they need to stay healthy and thrive.”
“The Kahlert Foundation is committed to supporting the health and education of children. Today, more than ever, nurturing the mental well-being of our youth will have a significant impact on living a productive and healthy life,” shared Greg Kahlert, President of the Kahlert Foundation, an early supporter of the effort.
"I have personally witnessed the impacts that mental health struggles have on a child’s ability to thrive in the classroom and school environment," said Consuela Robinson, HCPSS Instructional Facilitator for Social Work. "The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges and the needs have increased both in severity and in the number of students requiring support. We are grateful for the recognition of increasing and changing needs for Howard County students and are happy to be part of the solution and support."
“I have observed the direct impact of COVID on children and families in Howard County,” said Dawn Duignan member of the Local Children’s Board. “These programs provide support to our community through mental health consultations, childcare site visits, home visits, trainings for parents, and trainings for childcare centers. Now more than ever, it’s important to make sure our families have access to mental health resources.”
“Enhancing the mental health programs in our schools gives Howard County children access to resources throughout the year. These programs will result in children who are better equipped as adults to lead productive, healthier lives and a healthier Howard County,” said Howard County Health Officer, Dr. Maura J. Rossman.