Districts across the country are trying to figure out how to support the overwhelming mental health needs of students and staff. For many districts, the systems of support that were in place pre-pandemic have not been able to keep up with the demand of students as they have returned from distance learning. Across sectors and geographic locations, the message is clear: young people are hurting, there is a workforce shortage and a lack of clarity about how to address the need.
Schools have long been the primary de facto provider for mental health in children. Children with mental illness are present in school buildings in a very different way than they are in their doctor’s office or county social services provider. As schools feel they are often scrambling to address the needs, there are some unique opportunities during this time to augment the mental health supports through the use of federal funds authorized through the American Rescue Plan.
I have put together a few resources for those of you that might be considering new or additional positions to create a more robust team of supports to address mental health needs of students. I highlight 6 positions that you could consider, along with sample job descriptions for each.
Student Resiliency Specialists
As we face workforce shortages in mental health providers across the country, one school district added positions that served in a “triage” role. The position of a Student Resiliency Specialist added to their continuum of care and serves as a first point of contact for students that need a safe, supportive adult to talk to. The Student Resiliency Specialist also supported members of the student body that wanted to provide peer-to-peer support with mental health and chemical health needs. These services are brought to life in a wellness room that is housed within the school and available for students to access during the school day. Students are able to talk to someone immediately and also are able to schedule a follow-up appointment with the counselor, social worker or therapist if needed.
If you want to learn more about this model, there is a short video explaining the position. A sample job description is available as an instant download above.
Care Team Facilitator
A care team model brings together a team of providers within the school and community that coordinate the non-academic supports for students. It usually will consist of the social workers, mental health providers, counselors, psychologist and an assigned admin at the site. The team uses multiple sources of data and referrals to respond to students that need additional support. The team uses tiered supports and data to create interventions and responses across the student body. While this isn’t necessarily a new idea to many schools, often the systems that are built become overwhelmed without a designated person to help monitor, lead and coordinate the work. Having a key point of contact for this work, in addition to direct support for students, helps assure that systems do not get overwhelmed and unutilized. A job description is available here.
Trauma Informed and Healing Centered Practices Specialist
In a recent panel discussion, Julia Bantimba explained her unique role within her school district as the Trauma-Informed and Healing Centered Practices Specialist. Her role is supporting teams and teachers stay regulated and feel supported even when working with students that need a high level of support. You can learn more about her work and her position by watching that panel discussion on our YouTube channel.
Tom Horner serves as the Wellness Coordinator and focuses on Tier 1 strategies to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of all students. His role involves working with school staff, administration and families and developing responses, lessons and activities that support positive mental health.
Learn more about his work at the panel discussion and check out a few possible job descriptions here.
Increase Access to Therapists
Cait Earle shared about her role with Pine Island School District in our panel discussion about how adding a district-wide social work position to their small district was able to extend the services that were available to students, families and staff.
Mental Health Practitioner
This position works under the guidance and supervision of a licensed therapist helping individuals practice and generalize skills taught in therapy in natural settings. They allow opportunities for practice, reflection on past opportunities to use skills and utilize an embedded coaching model to encourage students to utilize skills in the moment when they are needed. They are a member of the special education team and are a service available to students that without this level of support might need a more restrictive setting. A Mental Health Practitioner will usually have a caseload of 10-15 students and helps to extend the mental health services when therapy isn’t available due to a workforce shortage or funding concerns. A job description for this position is available here.
Last week, Resilience Impact held a live training with three school providers working in newly created positions supporting the mental health of students. That conversation is available on our new Youtube channel if you want to check it out.
If you are interested in learning more about how to support student mental health, check out the Supporting Student Mental Health Conference on May 5-6th. You choose to attend live in central Minnesota or virtually!