The last few years have highlighted the need for mental health awareness across the community. Schools have long been on the frontline of identification and assistance, connecting students and families with needed resources. Thanks to greater funding from the state of Florida, Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) is excited to announce additional staffing and partnerships that support the expansion of mental health programs and services.
Elizabeth Tanner, supervisor of emotional wellness for HCPS, said, “We’re so fortunate. It’s nice to tell a parent that we can help. It’s not just about academics, we have to think about the whole child.”
The funding allows for additional counselors and school social workers, lowering the ratio of mental health professionals to students, which will help make sure mental health avenues are accessible at every school. Both virtually and in brick-and-mortar schools, these professionals provide general counseling and school-based evaluations to identify learning disabilities and possible problems with mental health.
Additionally, in partnership with Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, Hillsborough County Public Schools connects students and families with community providers. Community agencies can provide additional therapies/counseling and diagnose mental health problems. These services are available outside of typical school hours, but many can even have providers come into schools because of their unique partnerships with the district.
Families may be concerned about personal roadblocks, such as insurance coverage, out of pocket expenses or citizenship status.
Tanner wants to make sure the community is aware, saying, “When families give us permission, we can help them with anything that challenges them, whether it be monetary or transportation, with privacy and grace. We also help to coordinate when families need more than one type of service.”
The funding from the state allows for the district to be able to provide needed financial assistance, the lack of which so often deters people from seeking help. In fact, there are mental health clinicians assigned to each area within the district to work with school-based teams and parents to help families navigate the paperwork and make appropriate, timely referrals when additional services will benefit students.
The funding also helps pay for additional awareness training for teachers and school staffs so everyone is thinking about it in the classroom. That way, educators can identify students who may need support. The spotlight on mental health is so important that Hillsborough County Public Schools offers an Employee Assistance Program through employee benefits, which includes access to mental health services and support for when employees experience trying times.
In the future, because of the additional funding, the district is organizing a mobile crisis team that can go out to school sites when students experience severe episodes, such as threatened or attempted suicide. Currently, the district partners with law enforcement for these sensitive issues for which students may need to be involuntarily admitted to the hospital. It is in the best interests of students and families to have a team of licensed clinicians and therapists to come in, as they are most experienced in de-escalating the situation and determining the best path for the next steps.
For more information, families can contact their local school sites or visit www.hillsboroughschools.org/mentalhealth.