NW Educational Service District awarded $11.4 million federal grant to expand school-based mental health services

The Northwest Educational Service District 189 (NWESD) — which serves 35 school districts in Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties — has been selected as the recipient of an $11.4 million grant to recruit, place, support and retain 20 credentialed school-based mental health professionals in the districts it serves, including the Edmonds School District.

The mental health professionals hired will have the requisite training and clinical supervision necessary to provide clinical behavioral health supports – assessment and diagnosis of mental health conditions, mental health therapy and case management for K-12 students.

The Department of Education grant for $11,412,471 will provide essential mental health support to students in the region, NWESD said in a news release issued Monday. These funds support 75% of the total project cost, with the remaining 25% ($2,853,118) non-federal funds leveraged through local, county, and state partnerships. The total project will result in a $14,265,589 investment over the next five years.

“Families are urgently seeking mental health supports for children and youth and this funding will allow access to these kinds of services within their school community,” said Natalie Gustafson, assistant director of behavioral health and prevention Services and the project Director. “For our youngest students, family involvement is a key part of delivering the best possible care. Older students will be able to independently access supports.”

The NWESD serves 165,000-plus students, 10,000-plus teachers and 368 schools. Its behavioral health and prevention services department employs more than 50 staff members who offer substance use prevention and intervention, student assistance, attendance and reengagement supports, and mental health services.

Recognizing that students may want to see a mental health professional who has a background or culture like their own, the NWESD said it will employ recruitment and retention strategies that expand the diversity of credentialed school-based mental health professionals serving K-12 students.

“Regionally, we see students with increased frequency and intensity of mental health symptoms,” said Jodie DesBiens, director of behavioral health and prevention services. “The current services in schools and in the communities have not been able to meet the high demand.”

Added Gustafson: “Navigating mental health supports is challenging. When children can access this level of services within their school building many barriers are eliminated. This decreases stress for students and families as well as increases capacity for schools to respond to student mental health needs.”

Districts interested in having a mental health professional will have the opportunity to submit a partnership request form. Partnership requires a commitment to integrate services and cost-sharing. Services are anticipated to begin in spring 2023.

The NWESD will begin the process of recruiting mental health professionals who are interested in providing school-based services that offer unique opportunities to collaborate with educators to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for students. Interested applicants will be able to find more information on the www.nwesd.org/jobs website when posted.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to supplement and scale the work we are doing with our health and education partners to address the mental health needs of children and youth in our school communities,” said Larry Francois NWESD Superintendent.

The NWESD, located in Anacortes, is one of nine Educational Service Districts in Washington state.

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