Marin County has received a $4 million grant to help coordinate efforts between the county’s behavioral health division and Novato and San Rafael schools.
“We have been working with those two school districts to look at how we can improve behavioral health services in schools,” Jei Africa, director of the division, told county supervisors at their June 8 meeting, when they accepted the grant money.
The grant is available through the Mental Health Student Services Act, which was established in budget legislation in 2019. The legislation was created to promote mental health partnerships between counties’ behavioral health departments and school districts, charter schools and county offices of education.
Chandrika Zager, a supervisor in the Marin County behavioral health division, said the Novato and San Rafael school districts will each receive $400,000 a year over the next four years.
Zager said San Rafael will use the money to hire three coordinators while Novato will hire two coordinators and a behavior specialist. She said the coordinators won’t be licensed mental health professionals but will likely be social workers.
The coordinators will set up teams at each school consisting of school counselors, school administrators and representatives of service agencies such as Huckleberry Youth Programs and North Marin Community Services.
“These multi-disciplinary teams will meet weekly to discuss referrals that come in, triage services and follow up with data tracking,” Zager said. The coordinators will also help train students and parents to provide emotional support.
Zager said the remaining $2.4 million of the grant will be used to hire a consultant to investigate how to sustain coordination in the schools over the long term; to hire another consultant to help the coordinators to build their teams; and to cover Marin County’s administrative costs.
According to a report on the grant prepared by Benita McLarin, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services, there will be a particular emphasis in helping students “from traditionally underserved populations, including students living in poverty, impacted by historical forces such as structural racism, for whom English is a second language and students who are refugees/new immigrants to the United States.”
McLarin wrote that “a priority of this program is hiring staff from diverse backgrounds, who are bilingual and are representatives of the population being served. An equity focused recruitment and engagement strategy will be utilized to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds are able to be lead peer wellness ambassadors.”
McLarin added, “This work includes training both teachers and providers in culturally appropriate responses to problematic behavior, strengthening relationships between students and teachers, and between school districts and community-based providers.”
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