One of every six students in Washington has emotional, behavioral or developmental problems, and the vast majority of all mental illnesses appear before age 24. Yet nationally, less than half of children with diagnosable conditions receive treatment.
To help fill this hole, three school districts — Battleground, Marysville and Shelton — will share a $10 million federal grant aimed at linking students with mental health providers, offering more drug treatment and, overall, making schools a happier place to be. The grant covers five years and will touch about 29,000 kids.
“We are so excited,” said Dixie Grunenfelder, who manages intervention programs at Washington’s education department, and said the ultimate aim is to create a much-improved statewide system for providing mental health services to young people.
“We have to get more sophisticated about this,” she said. “When we interview kids who’ve dropped out, very often the reasons are not academic. Often, it’s substance abuse and mental health — these things just plague us. So to get this grant was a godsend.”
The money, which arrives as an extra $1.95 million each year, comes from a federal initiative called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), spurred by the massacre of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, as well as several other high-profile shootings involving emotionally disturbed young men. Project AWARE aims to reach 750,000 young people across the country.
Here, the three districts were chosen based on their crime data, poverty rates and results from the biennial Healthy Youth Survey on depression and substance abuse. Each district also had a superintendent determined to make mental health priority, Gruenfelder said.
Therapists could show up in schools as early as this spring, though next fall is more likely.