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Commission Calls for School-Based Mental Health Services

Children From Disadvantaged Communities Face Persistent Challenges

California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission logo with brain illustration

The California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) is urging the Governor and California State Legislature to expand and strengthen school-based partnerships that serve school children and their families—including younger children not yet in school—to address the growing mental health crisis among children.

“Educators have increasingly struggled with the trauma and anxiety that many children bring with them to school every day,” said Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon, who leads an MHSOAC subcommittee on schools and mental health.

“We know how to meet this challenge, and we were making slow progress before the pandemic hit,” Superintendent Gordon explained. “That significantly increased the stress on children and their families, and further elevated the imperative to address this need.” (The Sacramento County Office of Education announced a partnership this June that will place mental health clinicians in every Sacramento County school over the next several years.)

The chronic and persistent challenges facing disadvantaged communities, along with stressful conditions for many families, are eroding the mental health of children. In a report (Every Young Heart and Mind: Schools as Centers for Mental Wellness), MHSOAC distills what one educator called the “crisis-filled lives” of youth:

  • One in three high school students reports feeling chronically sad and hopeless, with more than half of LGBTQ students feeling that way.
  • One in six high school students reports having considered suicide in the past year, with one in three LGBTQ students having had those thoughts.
  • Half to three-quarters of students with mental health needs do not receive the care they need.
  • Racial, ethnic, and cultural disparities concentrate risk factors, prevalence rates, and service gaps in low-income communities of color.

MHSOAC Research and Actions

In December 2016, MHSOAC initiated a project to assess the needs, identify potential solutions, and determine how the 2014 Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) could be better deployed to meet those needs. The group convened more than 20 community meetings, many in low-income communities of color with disproportionately poor health and educational and economic outcomes. The commission consulted extensively with education experts, mental health experts, and practitioners.

As the evidence and opportunities became clear, in 2018, MHSOAC directed additional grant funding to children’s crisis programs and partnerships linking county behavioral health agencies and school districts. In 2019, it worked with the Governor and the State Legislature to develop the Mental Health Student Services Act, allocating $75 million this year to 18 county-school partnerships.

“Striving for Zero” Plan

At the direction of the State Legislature, MHSOAC is implementing Striving for Zero, the state’s suicide prevention plan that MHSOAC developed and adopted in 2019. The plan recognizes that youth attempt suicide at rates greater than any other age group and identifies youth of color as among the most at-risk groups. The pandemic response has eroded many protective factors for youth, such as connectedness to community and social institutions like schools that promote healthy and active lifestyles, elevating the need to strengthen school-based partnerships.

About the Commission

California voters created the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) when they enacted Proposition 63 (the Mental Health Services Act) in 2014, charging it with driving change in public and private mental health systems. MHSOAC puts consumers and families at the center of decision-making, promoting community collaboration and integrated service delivery. Its vision is for everyone to have proper access to effective mental health care. MHSOAC uses its authority, resources, and passion to promote the mental health and wellbeing of all Californians.