On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to set aside $17.4 million to expand school-based trauma screening and mental health and well-being services for kids.
The motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas will launch a “Community Schools Initiative” (CSI) in the county’s highest needs school districts.
Just under $9.7 million will go to “pilot” schools within the LA Unified School District. Approximately $7.7 million will go to pilot schools under the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), which runs the county’s “juvenile court schools” in youth probation camps, as well as “alternative” schools for high-needs kids.
“It is time for us to bring this issue out of the shadows and equip our schools with the resources that they deserve to improve the mental health and well-being of our young people,” Barger said, introducing her bill on Tuesday. “The Los Angeles County Community Schools Initiative will provide a continuum of school-based mental health resources, including education and training programs, screening, crisis response, peer support,” as well as referrals to services for the kids and parents that need them.
The motion directs DMH to set aside $4.3 million to fund “45 positions and deploy 10 regional mental health teams” to the county’s 80 school districts.
Additionally, CSI will fund training for school officials and staff on “the impacts of trauma and how to improve student achievement by creating a trauma-informed” school environment in which kids can thrive.
“As we continue to develop new approaches to foster well-being for these youngsters in the community at large, we’re doing something that’s going to pay dividends well into the future,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.
The goals of the Community Schools Initiative include reducing chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and expulsions, as well as decreasing dropout rates, increasing graduation rates, and boosting family engagement and community connectedness.
“We’re looking at the districts that have the highest rates of crime, of chronic absenteeism, of homelessness, of foster youth–the districts that really, really need that support,” said LA County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo. “I also see this as a diversion program. Let’s stop spending money” incarcerating kids, Duardo added. “And let’s start doing early identification and providing resources and supports to families that need them.”
Pia Escudero, the LAUSD’s executive director of Health and Human Services, said the plan would “allow us to really build upon a foundation of prevention and early intervention that we currently do not have in our school district.”
Escudero said that the district’s social workers, in partnership with UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, had been “universally screening children” for the last few years. Through this process, Escudero said, the district found that 80 percent of middle school and high school students had experienced multiple traumatic events. And “about 48 percent of all students” showed symptoms of “moderate to high risk” for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to Escudero. “They’re hyper-vigilant, hyper-aroused, and many of them are numb,” said Escudero. “These symptoms do not allow them to learn.”
The LA County Supes and the LA County Department of Mental Health hope to address these issues by creating a comprehensive trauma-informed school support system. “This initiative will integrate evidence-based practices on school campuses and improve the connectivity of students and their families to service providers and holistic programs,” Supervisor Barger said. “By eliminating socio-emotional barriers, we will see improved learning outcomes and overall wellness for our students.”
The LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH) drafted the “Community Schools Initiative” at the behest of the supervisors, meeting with more than 100 students, parents, teachers, psychiatric social workers, providers, and other stakeholders during the process.
“As much as [our communities] are our target for service, they are our partner in solutions. And we have to … leverage communities for subject matter expertise … as partners” for bringing about healing and change, said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, LA County’s Director of Mental Health.
Image by LA County Office of Education: “Operation Graduation” at Walt Disney Concert Hall – 330 juvenile court school and alternative school students “beat the odds” and graduate high school.
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