To build a school climate and culture that supports mental health, you’re going to need two things: buy-in from those who control the purse strings, and the funds to implement mental health support programs. Given the growing need, getting buy-in is no longer as challenging as it once was. And, grants for mental health in schools are readily available, if you know where to look.
Here’s how to get started.
How to get buy-in? Look to the US DOE
The need for mental health support in schools has become so extreme and widespread that the US DOE has published a 90+ page report documenting the challenges schools face and recommendations for overcoming them. Here’s an enlightening excerpt:
“Many children and students struggle with mental health challenges that impact their full access to and participation in learning, and these challenges are often misunderstood and can lead to behaviors that are inconsistent with school or program expectations. The COVID-19 global pandemic intensified these challenges, accelerating the need to provide school-based mental health support and leverage our accumulated knowledge about how to provide nurturing educational environments to meet the needs of our nation’s youth.”
This is important, because it lends weight to what many experts have been saying for years: mental health is foundational to learning. Without mental health, academic progress is not possible. While schools are desperate to find a way to address the learning gap that happened during remote learning, they can’t succeed unless they also address the tsunami of mental health issues that have arisen at the same time.
The US DOE agrees. It’s hard to argue with that.
The problem is, many schools are struggling financially and administrators who want to implement school mental health programs are wondering where they will find the money.
The fact is, there are many grants for mental health in schools, including federal funds that you already have access to. However, before you can identify the right funding sources, you need to examine the specific needs your school has and set goals for what you want to achieve.
Start with needs assessment and goal setting
The first step is to assess your school or district’s needs. The information you will learn from this exercise will help you get buy-in, focus your efforts on what you need most, and help you secure funds by providing evidence to use in applications for grants for mental health in schools.
You can do a quick and informal needs assessment by creating a survey using Google Forms, and sending it to your entire school staff. You might find that you get more candid responses if you allow them to be anonymous.
You can also take it a step further and send a school- or district-wide survey to every student. There are a variety of needs assessment tools you can use. Here is an article that explains the process: How to Conduct Student Mental Health Screening.
The results might surprise you. And the answers will definitely help hone in on the most urgent needs and set appropriate goals.
For example, you might find that behavioral and mental health issues in the classroom are paralyzing teachers and interfering with everyone’s ability to learn. In that case, you might want to focus on training teachers on how to recognize and intervene appropriately. Or, you might find that school refusal has become an epidemic, and that nobody knows what to do. In that case, you might want both triage for struggling students and training for your child study team.
In addition to survey responses, you should also compile other types of data that demonstrate the impact of mental health on school performance, including grades, attendance, referrals for hospitalization, behavioral issues and disciplinary actions, and even staff turnover rates.
Once you know what types of support you need and for what purpose, you can identify the appropriate funding sources.
You already have access to federal grants for mental health in schools
Many of the so-called formula grants for schools (including TITLE funds, IDEA, and ESSER grants) can be used to fund mental health programs in schools. You simply need to choose the right grant for the right purpose, and justify it accordingly on your application.
Start by gaining an understanding of the focus of individual federal funding sources. Here are just a few examples:
- TITLE II is focused on professional development, so you can use it for mental health training for your staff.
- TITLE III is focused on English Language Learning, so you can use it for mental health support for immigrant children to overcome trauma so they can improve academic performance.
- Title IV is focused on safety and health, so you can use it for suicide risk assessment or any aspect of mental health.
- ESSER funds, designed for Covid-related relief, have specific components that MUST be spent on mental health support in many states. And, there is a component for Accelerated Learning to address the gap, which (as mentioned above) has a mental health prerequisite.
To learn more about federal funding sources, download our free guide to Funding Student Mental Health Programs in Schools.
Depending on your role, you may or may not have access to the systems used to apply for and manage these grants. If you don’t have access to all of them, you’ll need to start by talking to your Business Administrator (or the person who does have access).
At this point in the year, your school has already completed the application process for these grants. That doesn’t mean it’s too late!
How to adjust your allocation of federal grant money
Even though your district has already applied for federal funds at this point, you can still change how the funds are allocated and include allocation for student mental health support. There’s nearly always a way to shift allocations and find room for an urgent need like the mental health crisis we are facing.
For example, working with your BA you might find that you have leftover funds in one area that you can reduce and re-allocate to mental health support.
To change your allocation, you’ll need to include justification for the change. That’s where you’ll use the information you gained from your needs assessment.
If you’re planning new programs for the 2022-2023 school year, you’ll want to aim for completing the amendment process in March or April.
If you currently don’t have access to the grants system on your state BOE’s website, you can either ask to be given administrative access or sit with your BA and guide him or her to complete the required information.
Tips for uncovering local sources of funding for mental health programs
In addition to federal funds, you can also find local and state sources of grants for mental health in schools.
Once you have spoken with your Business Administrator, start by contacting your county and/or state educational agencies (SEAs). Give them a call and ask them to guide you to any underused funding they can think of that may be used for mental health support. It’s not uncommon to uncover state funds that have not received any applications! That’s your chance to gain the resources you need.
Here are some additional places to look that can yield smaller funding amounts, but ones that can add up to valuable support:
- Local PBS stations. Who are the local donors who support educational programming in your area? These individuals or foundations may very well be interested in your cause.
- Hospital systems. Again, who are the major donors who support the health of your community? Donors supporting pediatric healthcare may be persuaded to support mental health programs in schools.
- Community organizations. What non-profits and other organizations help to support your local community? Look for organizations that support children, families, and health. In addition to funding, you might find other types of help and resources available from these groups.
Developing your plan to support school mental health
At this point, you probably have a good understanding of the need for mental health support in your school. However, the idea of developing a plan and implementing support services might seem overwhelming. How can you decide what type of services you need, and what might fit into your budget?
Thrive is here to help. We offer a range of school-based mental health support services (including coaching, training, certification, counseling, and professional development) that can be customized to meet the needs of your school or district.
To schedule a confidential conversation about your needs as well as what’s delivering results for other schools like yours, reach out to me at email@example.com.