In an effort to build on its commitment to improve the lives of children and families living in poverty in the District’s Ward 7 and 8, one foundation will invest $4.1 million over four years to expand school-based mental health services in these areas of the city.

The Bainum Family Foundation announced Tuesday, Nov. 7 that the mental health work will be conducted through a partnership with the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS) at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“School-based mental health is a key element of our Foundation’s wrap-around support strategy,” said foundation CEO and President Barbara Bainum. “Our mission is to support the whole child to help them thrive.”

The foundation’s three-year strategy to increase access to mental health support available to children and families in Wards 7 and 8 and to advance the overall field of school-based mental health falls in line with their 2020 strategic goal of adding 2,000 wrap-around support seats East of the River.

The goal is to increase students’ social-emotional well-being, while sharing knowledge and lessons learned with the mental health field.

The strategy launched this fall includes identifying a group of four charter elementary and middle schools in Wards 7 and 8 to participate in a Community of Practice. CHHCS and the foundation will provide three years of training and technical assistance in the areas of mental health data coordination and universal prevention.

The plan also calls for convening and leading a District-wide learning community of local school-based mental health stakeholders, including practitioners, researchers and school administrators, to leverage existing expertise and resources.

This group will launch in January and meet bimonthly.

The third strategy includes working with national partners such as CHHCS, the Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to connect and convene national experts to advance the conversation

The foundation said the goal of these meetings are to discuss local, state and federal strategies to strengthen the availability and quality of school-based mental health services for children, youth and families.

“This needs to include comprehensive support to address children’s social and emotional development,” Bainum said. “Schools are an effective way to deliver such services because they already play a central role in the lives of children and families.”

The $4.1 million investment includes the initial needs assessment conducted by CHHCS and the foundation in 2016.

According to Olga Acosta Price, PhD, director of CHHCS and founding director of the District’s longstanding School Mental Health Program, the needs assessment affirmed the challenges faced by children and families in the east end.

The results saw an elevated need for mental health services due to the high stress factors that result from living in poverty, coupled with low availability of resources such as clinics and practitioners in their communities.

Acosta Price claims that available services in D.C. focus largely on high-needs children rather than early identification and prevention for all children.

“The District has a good record of investing in school mental health over the past two decades, but there are still gaps, a lack of coordination of services and no systematic way to make decisions or share resources,” she said. “Through the new strategy we have developed with the foundation, we aim to help schools adopt the most effective approaches known in the field, build their capacity to serve more children and families, and ensure the sustainability of school-based mental health supports over time.”

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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