The funding comes with a particular focus on the provision of mental health services.
Amid rising concerns over mental health issues affecting juveniles, federal officials this week announced what they described as a vital funding boost for healthcare services provided at schools – with a particular focus on the provision of mental health services.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), said the boost comes in the form of approximately $25 million in grants, and for the first time, applicants will be required to add or expand mental health services to receive the additional funds. HRSA-funded health centers currently operate more than 3,400 school-based service sites across the country.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to improving and expanding behavioral health services,” the agencies said in a joint press release, which noted that the President named mental health as a key pillar of his recently unveiled “Unity Agenda,” which includes a broader comprehensive strategy to address what it called “the nation’s mental health crisis.”
“President Biden recognizes that mental health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of our country’s children and young adults, and he has been supportive of HHS programs and policies to expand youth mental health services,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Ensuring that children can access the care they need in schools, including mental health services, is a critical way we can support their healthy growth and development.”
“At the Health Resources and Services Administration, we are using all available levers to expand access to mental health care,” HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson added. “We want to ensure that there is no wrong door to young people finding help. That’s why we are investing in expanding mental health care in schools to help kids get the support they need. We look forward to a robust applicant pool in response to this exciting funding announcement.”
Officials also noted that the funding would not only provide for the development of new school-based health sites, but also expand offerings at existing sites. The new funding boost comes in addition to $30 million HRSA has awarded since September 2021 to further the same goal.
A total of 70 applications will ultimately be approved. Health centers must submit applications in Grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 31 and in HRSA Electronic Handbooks by 5 p.m. EST on May 1. Officials said interested applicants should visit the School-Based Service Expansion Technical Assistance Webpage for the notice of funding opportunity, eligibility requirements, technical assistance information, and other resources.
HRSA operates more than 15,000 service delivery sites in communities across the country.
“As part of HHS’s overarching commitment to youth mental health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently announced a new funding opportunity through Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education),” the press release added. “The purpose of this program is to develop a sustainable infrastructure for school-based mental health programs and services. With this program, SAMHSA aims to promote the healthy social and emotional development of school-aged youth and prevent youth violence in school settings.”
Applications for the Project AWARE funding opportunity are due in Grants.gov by April 28. More information about funding eligibility can be found at https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/grant-announcements/sm-23-001.
An American Psychological Association report issued last year indicated that “mental illness and the demand for psychological services are at all-time highs – especially among children.” The report noted that even prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly exacerbated such issues, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data found that 1 in 5 children had a mental disorder, but only about 20 percent of those children received care from a mental health provider.
The report also cited a 2020 survey of 1,000 parents around the country, facilitated by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, which found that approximately 7 in every 10 parents said the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health – and that the pandemic was the “worst thing to happen to their child.” A national survey of 3,300 high schoolers conducted in spring 2020 found close to a third of students felt “unhappy and depressed much more than usual.”
From March 2020 to October 2020, the report added, mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for those ages 12 to 17, when compared with 2019 emergency department visits, according to CDC data.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development noted that in 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a state of emergency in response to mental health challenges facing children, adolescents, and their families during COVID-19. NIH also cited a different study using data from 14 states, finding that during the pandemic, the percentage of adolescents screening positive for symptoms of depression increased from 5 to 6.2 percent, and those screening positive for suicide risk increased from 6.1 to 7.1 percent.