DHHS grants R.I. $9M to expand, coordinate mental health youth outreach

PROVIDENCE — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a $9 million, five-year grant to the R.I. Department of Education and the R.I. Department of Children Youth and Families to improve youth mental health services by strengthening partnerships with mental health treatment providers and aligning school-based services with community resources.

This five-year grant, with a $1.8 million annual allocation, will help the organizations reach nearly 40,000 students in the pilot communities of Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, where RIDE and DCYF will work with the districts and with community partners to increase awareness of mental health issues, provide training for school personnel, and connect students and families with the mental and behavioral health services they need.

The grant proposal was submitted with the assistance of the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

In Rhode Island, 19 percent of children ages 6 to 17 have a diagnosable mental health problem, and 10 percent have significant functional impairment, according to RIDE. With the funding, RIDE and DCYF will establish stronger partnerships with mental health treatment providers to ensure alignment between school-based services and community supports and resources. The grant will also build internal capacity in the districts by providing awareness, training, and collaboration opportunities that enhance early intervention and ongoing supports for students struggling with mental health issues.

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Gov. Gina M. Raimondo noted the Sept. 5 shooting death of 15-year-old Central High School student William Parsons near the Providence Career and Technical Academy on Fricker Street, calling the tragedy a symptom of suffering youth in the Ocean State.

“Last week, a young man was killed in Providence. His story is too familiar. There are children suffering in our communities from violence, stress, depression and serious mental health challenges, and they need our help,” Raimondo said.

“This week I’ve directed BHDDH to provide trauma counseling services at various locations throughout Providence while schools are closed. This new grant money will help ensure that students continue to have access to these important services. I’m grateful to RIDE and DCYF for their leadership in making student mental health a priority,” Raimondo added.

“As a former school psychologist, I know how critical school-based mental health services are to identifying and helping our kids who need it most,” said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Students cannot perform at their best unless they are in a safe and supportive environment, and that kind of positive school culture is possible only if we talk about mental health issues and give our students the tools and support they need to thrive.”

Goals of the grant proposal include:

  • Increase access to behavioral health services, particularly for youth with Serious Emotional Disturbance or Serious Mental Illness. Policy and programmatic changes will begin in the pilot districts, with the intent to promulgate policies statewide
  • Provide school-based mental health programs, staffed by behavioral health specialists, to screen, provide early intervention, and provide ongoing services
  • Raise awareness and identification of mental health issues, promote positive mental health, and help to prevent youth violence
  • Connect families, schools, and communities to increase engagement for planning and implementing behavioral health and prevention programs for school-aged youth
  • More quickly identify students and respond to their needs if they exhibit behavioral or psychological signs that indicate a need for clinical intervention

“Teachers, counselors, and other school personnel must have the resources they need to support the children in their care, and all students deserve access to quality mental and behavioral health services,” said Trista Piccola, director of the DCYF. “We look forward to working together with our partners to strengthen our state’s services, to give youth and their families the supports they need to be safe and healthy.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.