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Collaborating on Compassionate, Comprehensive School Mental Health

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support, and Martha Staeheli, Director of the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center’s School Mental Health Initiative

Teachers and school administrators are accustomed to donning many caps and pivoting to deliver whatever their school communities need, often without optimal funding and training. That has never been more true than during the last year and a half; educators have been rightfully heralded as some of the front-line heroes that helped get our children and us through this pandemic, often during challenging, stressful, and constantly changing circumstances. While COVID-19 has spotlighted some mental health, equity, and educational challenges within schools, many educators have always understood that kind words, care, and attention set the stage for learning within and beyond school communities.

As mental health literacy increases in the education world—through free, virtual courses like the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center’s Classroom WISE—schools recognize that supporting student mental health is a crucial component of whole-child education. However, even as more educators begin to understand the challenges that mental health disorders, stress, and trauma can present in the classroom, schools don’t always have the staff or comprehensive training necessary to meet all of the demands they face. As a result, more and more schools and educators are partnering with community-based organizations, mental and behavioral health centers, and other healthcare organizations to successfully and effectively support student and family well-being. These collaborations between schools and community health partners are crucial as we look to the next phase of pandemic recovery and support students’ ongoing and broad mental health needs.

Compassionate School Mental Health: Implementing the HEART Model

The specific mental health needs in each school and district vary, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to help youth-serving systems collaborate in ways that support students. But one thing that unites all of the educators and leaders in healthcare we have had the pleasure to work with is their passion for reducing trauma and making real and lasting changes in the systems meant to protect young people and foster their growth. In New England, we are working with SAMHSA and HRSA to support mental health-focused collaborations between schools and healthcare through the Healthcare workers and Educators Addressing and Reducing Trauma (HEART) Collective. HEART members include educators, clinicians, healthcare administrators, as well as researchers, families, and people with lived experience, including students. In HEART, we have been developing resources, products, and training around how these two complex and diverse systems overlap to support holistic well-being for students in ways that are trauma-skilled, compassionate, and evidence-based.

Through our work with HEART, we are refining our Compassionate School Mental Health Model to increase understanding of trauma-skilled methods of providing comprehensive school-based mental health support using wraparound professional, educational, and community supports. HEART Collective members have helped us identify the gaps in knowledge for schools and community-based organizations, agencies, and healthcare centers collaborating to support youth mental health. Based on this, we have begun seeking the advice of experts—researchers, education and healthcare leaders, classroom teachers, students, and their families—on overcoming these barriers to collaboration.

Enhancing the Effectiveness of School-Based Mental Health Collaborations

To help New England facilitate effective school and community healthcare collaborations, we are developing the HEART Learning Collaborative, which will begin in September and run through the school year. This Learning Collaborative will be open to school and healthcare teams interested in creating school-based mental health partnerships rooted in evidence/experience, compassion, equity, and the participation of all school community members. By the close of the learning collaborative, participants will:

  • Gain tools, strategies, and skills for building and maintaining effective collaborations between school-based and community-based health professionals and overcoming barriers to providing school-based mental health supports

  • Make an action plan for strong collaboration between schools and community-based health professionals to provide school-based mental health supports and/or systems for their school/district

  • Receive intensive technical assistance to help them troubleshoot current collaboration challenges

  • Learn how to communicate to families, students, and the school community the importance of collaboration between schools, community-based mental health and healthcare providers, and other community members, and to further involve all stakeholders in the task of cultivating a compassionate school community to address and buffer against trauma

Learning Collaborative participants will work closely with experts and in a rich community of practice for individualized coaching and training to navigate the challenges, celebrate success, and share innovation and implementation strategies. Participants are eligible for 15 hours of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) upon completion of the program.

If you are interested in learning more about the HEART Learning Collaborative, please join us for an information session on Monday, August 16 at 12 p.m. EST or Wednesday, September 1 at 4 p.m. EST or click here for the application.


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