The Stoughton Area School District will receive more than $90,000 from Dane County to hire a mental health coordinator. The position - a first for the district - is intended to “develop and facilitate referral pathways.”

It’s part of $265,554 in funding to five county school districts (also Madison, Oregon, Sun Prairie, and Wisconsin Heights) to help meet the increasing behavioral health needs of K-12 students, according to an Aug. 3 county news release. County Executive Joe Parisi said the funds will help schools “add staff and resources to support the work of teachers, young people and their families.”

“With this funding, Dane County and local school districts will be able to enhance mental health supports for students heading into the new school year,” he said. “Dane County remains committed to addressing the behavioral health needs of our young people, especially given the challenging events that have unfolded over the past few years.”

The program will provide mental health or substance use treatment services (individual or group treatment) within school buildings and/or via telehealth platforms, or specific outreach to students not yet engaged in mental health or substance use treatment. Mental health or substance use treatment modalities will be delivered by persons trained and credentialed to provide the service, be evidenced-informed, and time limited, according to the news release.

“We are grateful to Dane County for this grant opportunity,” said district superintendent Dan Keyser. “This grant will not only provide needed support for our students, but for our families and staff as well.”

The county sought proposals from local school districts with the goal of having dollars awarded for districts to hire staff or contract with providers when school is back in session this fall. Funding will be available for the next couple of years to provide the programs an opportunity to build relationships with the young people they are looking to support.

The need for mental health and substance use services for children and youth has increased substantially in recent years and has been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the news release. The 2021 Dane County Youth Assessment data showed increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and self-harm among middle- and high school-age youth.

SASD director of student services Keli Melcher wrote in an email to the Hub last week that the district completed the Wisconsin School Mental Health Needs Assessment and School Mental Health Profile-District Version in June to determine the “highest leverage strategy in meeting the behavioral health needs of our students.” Those needs were specifically identified in the area of outreach and referral pathways/referral coordination for behavioral health.

“We proposed using this grant to support the hiring of a full-time Mental Health Coordinator to increase our outreach efforts to families, students, and agencies,” she explained. “As mental health needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic, this role will support increased knowledge and access for our students and families, including students who have not yet engaged in mental health or substance use treatment, and enhanced collaboration with current and potential additional providers to support the mental health needs of our students.”

Contact reporter Scott De Laruelle

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