By Robert Helde
Beginning with Florida Senate Bill (SB) 7026, Florida has been working to address mental health crises in a statewide fashion. During the March 10, 2020 Hernando County School District (HCSD) workshop, these matters were elaborated upon by Jill Kolasa, Director of Student Services.
The Mental Health Allocation adheres to the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) as set forth by SB7026. MTSS for mental health assessment uses a three tier system for determining the best course of action. The goal is to develop evidence based mental health solutions by identifying mental health challenges, recommending interventions, and developing support plans. Additional resources are being made available to students with one or more diagnoses.
The Mental Health Allocation provides funding for training as well as several additional employees in positions including a Compliance Monitor of Mental Health Services and Threat Assessments and a Confidential Secretary at the office of safe schools. Additionally the allocation pays for eight school social workers, one of whom was added this year due to a slight increase in funding. It is currently expected that funding will remain as is and will not see another major increase in the near future. The goal is to have one social worker per school with the current total number of school social workers at 15 for the area’s 28 schools. Social worker placement is based on need, and each K-8 school has a social worker due to high enrollment numbers as well as ostensible need. A reassessment of need will take place at the end of the school year.
Tier 1, focused on the mental and emotional well being of all students, is required by and provided for starting with SB7026. As such, tier 1 will not be affected by the Mental Health Allocation. Training provided to address tier 1 requirements include Kognito online training, Youth and Mental Health First Aid, Florida Positive Behavior Support, as well as how to interpret other early warning data such as attendance, disciplines, and grades. A Social-Emotional Learning Committee has been established, and are working to establish methods and tools to enable universal mental health screening of Hernando County students. These measures are intended to help catch students that would otherwise be missed by the regular criteria. Area schools have either completed or nearly completed the five hour student mental health training.
Between Aug. 2019 and Dec. 2019, 1125 students were screened or assessed. These instances are then reviewed by school social workers. Roughly 170 of the 1125 were considered mental health issues, with the remainder being other behaviors or challenges. The majority, 825 students were recommended for school based services with 722 currently receiving these services. 369 students have been referred to community services with 208 confirmed to be receiving guidance or treatment. The numerical difference between those referred to the community and those receiving attention is due to factors including lack of confirmation, travel difficulties, and problems at home.
“Is there some issues or problems that we need to be aware of so that more of those students get the services and we know that they’re receiving the services?” Susan Duval, Board Chair, initially questioned.
“It’s very grey, there’s not one answer for that, but we are addressing it and constantly calling and there’s a multitude of reasons why those students… are not getting their services,” said Kolasa.
Susan Duval, Board Chair, responded, “For me, it appears to be a high number, and when you have kids falling through the cracks, that’s where a lot of problems seem to originate from.”
Kolasa responded, “And we can’t control the community so we do as much as we can at the school base… we don’t just drop it and let it go, we continue to monitor and provide them school based services.”
Last year, the funding for tier 2 went mostly to establishing a curriculum, this year the funding will go toward faculty training. Tier 2 focuses on students who are at risk of or who have low level mental health challenges. Practices such as check-in-check-out, targeted small group interventions, and evidence based screening are used with tier 2 cases. Additionally, school based mental health programs Starfish and Seahorse are available to these students. Roughly 80% of cases are handled at a school based level by trained psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses.
Between 2019 and 2020, there have been 321 substance abuse referrals through student services. 250 referrals were for vaping, with 196 being nicotine related and the remaining 54 related to THC. Of the 321 total referrals, 146 families had attended classes as of 3/10. A third substance abuse counselor has been hired to take up overflow.
Also included in this workshop was school related Baker Act data. As of 2/28/20 there had been 50 involuntary hospitalizations. Among the 50 hospitalizations, multiple students had two or more separate instances. In situations with multiple instances the student werel be referred to community resources for more specialized attention.
Tier 3 is where those students who have recurring or intensive challenges will receive individualized care. The tier 3 designation also allows students to be recommended to community providers. To assist those students with the most sever mental and emotional challenges, all instructional staff have undergone 2 hours of Kognito training or Youth Mental Health First Aid training for suicide prevention. Further training is being prepared by Youth Mental Health First Aid. The goal of having two Columbia/Safe T trained staff at every school is still ongoing but has nearly been met.
Mental health training will continue for teachers and staff going into 2021 and continued focus will be placed on suicide prevention. Tier one support will increase in the form of social-emotional learning related programs. A universal screening pilot is also being rolled out to area principals with the intention of catching students that would otherwise fall through the cracks.