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Social workers ‘Triage’ mental wellness in Tulare County students

Social workers ‘Triage’ mental wellness in Tulare County students

Special Services awarded Mental Wellness Triage Grant to implement in over 20 schools 


TULARE COUNTY – “You see someone sitting alone at lunchtime. What will you do?” Students at Kings River Union School might encounter this question when playing a social skills board game with Mary Xavier, a Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) social worker assigned to the district.

Xavier might use the board game as part of her support services to the 450-student K-8 district in northern Tulare County. For four years, the district has contracted for social work services through TCOE’s Behavioral Health Services (BHS) – a program within the Special Services division.

Xavier and Sarah Humason, a TCOE school psychologist, work together to provide district students and their families with behavioral support services and access to community resources. Xavier meets with families in need of clothing, food, and health services, while checking in with students who have three or more unexcused absences. She also assists Humason, working with students who exhibit behavioral issues or are in crisis.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately one in five youth (ages 13-18) experiences a severe mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. Nearly half of these students receive no mental health services. Of those that do, over half receive services at school.

The model that has been in place at Kings River Union School will soon be replicated in over 20 schools throughout Tulare County. To increase the amount of support to students in Tulare County, BHS partnered with Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) to develop a new grant-funded program. The grant, funded for four years by the California Mental Health Services Oversight Commission, was created out of Senate Bill 82 and awarded to only four agencies in the state. The TCOE Mental Wellness Triage Grant Program received a multi-million dollar award to begin implementing these services this fall.

While over 20 partnerships will be included in the first two years of the grant, additional school partnerships will be created in the final two years of the grant, covering the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

The partnerships include five main components which participating districts receive at no cost. A key component of the grant is the placement of one Triage Social Worker (TSW) to serve identified school sites one day a week for two years. The TSW provides collaborative student- and family-centered social work services, connecting children and families to all appropriate services. The TSW is also the unifying member of the team of parents, school staff, and regional mental health prevention and early intervention service providers supporting the student. Once the partner schools are identified, Mary Xavier will become a clinical supervisor, using her experience at Kings River to oversee the TSWs funded by the Mental Wellness Triage Grant.

The program also includes the implementation of the Mindful Schools K-12 curriculum, which is delivered for 15 minutes just two to three times per week. The goal of the Mindful Schools curriculum is to help prevent children and adolescents from developing social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Research has found that students who practice mindfulness exercises experience improved attention and focus, better emotional regulation, engagement and behavior in school, more empathy, and an overall reduction in depressive symptoms, stress, and test anxiety.

Through the Triage Grant, schools will also receive trainings regarding student mental wellness. Data on progress and outcomes will be collected to share with school boards and site administrators. As part of the agreement, partner districts must secure funding to sustain a mental health professional who will fulfill the Triage Social Worker job responsibilities on their school campus for at least 8 hours per week for an additional two years.

“Over the last several years, TCOE has worked alongside districts to serve and support students with increasingly complex mental health needs,” said Tammy McKean, assistant superintendent of Special Services. “We are so pleased to offer an increased level of support through the School-County Collaborative Triage Grant. This grant will raise the standard of mental health service to ensure our students are socially and, ultimately, academically successful.”

For more information on the Triage Grant, contact Dr. Jennifer Newell, director for Behavioral Health Services, at 559-730-2969, extension 6938, or jennifern@tcoe.org.

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