The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant is for more than four years. Through the work of Project AWARE IMPACT (Improving Mental Health Practices Across Communities Together), CSIU will collaborate with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the McDowell Institute on the Commonwealth University campus in Bloomsburg, Geisinger’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health (the largest sub-beneficiary), and community resources to create sustainable support infrastructures to address the growing mental health needs of students and mental health staffing shortages in schools.
“Everyone is talking to our kids about the mental health crisis today because we can see it, post-COVID, but I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of the problem,” said Julie Petrin, the director of Behavioral Health Support Services that oversees on this grant. “This crisis was happening before COVID and it’s just more apparent now. Giving our communities, schools and especially our students the tools to deal with the stress and trauma in their lives is probably the most important work I’ve done in my career in education will do.”
Petrin said she hears teachers, parents and students all asking for help and looking for resources.
“This grant will provide the system, tools, training and knowledge to address what is happening to our children,” she said. “If we can make mental health as important as physical health and reduce the stigma associated with it, I think we’ll change course for the future.”
CSIU Chief Outreach Officer Dr. Bernadette Boerckel said behavioral and mental health issues have had a significant impact on students in the 17 school districts and three career and technical centers served by CSIU since pre-pandemic and student needs have only been exacerbated by the ripple effects of isolation, loss and changes in learning modalities during COVID-19.
To achieve this challenging goal, the Project AWARE IMPACT team will assist school districts through a needs assessment process that will result in action plans and resources, which may include a three-level model for providing support to drive positive behavioral health for all students. promoting, targeted services for those who need more support, and indicated intensive services for those who need it, Boerckel said.
The team will also assist with specialist professional development using the ECHO learning model — a combination of collaborative learning instruction and case studies — to support the best practices of school social workers, counselors and school psychologists, Boerckel said.
They will further assist with referral pathways through student support programs (SAP) and Geisinger telehealth services to ensure that students in need of services receive necessary school and/or community mental health, substance use and co-occurring support and services; and a Geisinger Bridge Clinic, which will provide a rapid-access care clinic for pediatric patients in acute psychiatric crisis, which will provide evidence-based short-term care for children and families while helping to coordinate long-term access to therapy, Boerckel said.