The Mental Health Student Services Act
The Mental Health Student Services Act (MHSSA) provides grants for partnerships between county mental health agencies and local education agencies to deliver school-based mental health services to young people and their families. These partnerships support outreach to identify early signs of unmet mental health needs, reduce stigma and discrimination, and prevent unmet mental health needs from becoming severe and disabling.
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The MHSSA seeks to foster partnerships between county mental health or behavioral health departments and local education entities to provide school-based mental health services to children, youth and their families.
The Commission will award grants to county mental health or behavioral health departments to fund these partnerships. Grants awarded shall be used to provide support services that include, at a minimum, services that are provided on school campuses, to the extent practicable, suicide prevention, drop-out prevention, placement assistance, continuum-of-care for students in need of ongoing services, and outreach to high-risk youth. High-risk youth shall include foster youth, youth who identify as LGBTQ+, and youth who have been expelled or suspended from school.
Authorized by Senate Bill 75 as part of the State’s 2019 Budget Act, the MHSSA allocated $40 million one-time and $10 million ongoing funding for school-county mental health partnerships.
SB 75 limited applicants to counties, cities, or multicity mental health agencies, or consortiums of those entities, working in partnership with one or more school districts and either a county office of education or a charter school.
The law made funding available in two categories: funding for counties with existing school mental health partnerships and funding for counties developing new partnerships. It further designated grant eligibility based on county size (small, medium, or large).
The Commission received 38 grant applications from 40 counties, including two multi-county collaboratives. Twenty were to support existing partnerships (Category 1), and 18 were to support new and emerging partnerships (Category 2). This first round of funding provided $75 million for the 18 grants awarded, including 10 for Category 1 and eight for Category 2.
Category 1: Fresno, Humboldt, Kern, Mendocino, Orange, Placer, San Luis Obispo, Solano, Tulare, Ventura
Category 2: Calaveras, Madera, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Tehama, Trinity-Modoc, Yolo
The Budget Act of 2021 provided an additional $95 million to fund applicants who applied to the first round of funding but did not receive a grant. An additional 20 counties were eligible for grants, which was approved at the Commission’s June 2021 meeting. These Phase 2 grants include 10 for Category 1 and 10 for Category 2.
Category 1: Glenn, Lake, Los Angeles, Marin, Mariposa, Monterey, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco
Category 2: Amador, Contra Costa, Imperial, Nevada, Riverside, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sonoma, Sutter-Yuba, Tuolumne
The Federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) provided up to $100 million through the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF) to fund the remaining 20 counties establishing an MHSSA program. These grants will be for Economically Disadvantaged Communities. This solicitation is for the federally funded grants and is available to California counties and local education partners which did not already receive an MHSSA grant from the Commission. The Commission is in an active procurement at this time with these counties.
In the fall of 2019, the Commission held listening sessions in Sacramento, Richmond, Fresno, and Los Angeles on the MHSSA. The purpose was to make local behavioral health and education leaders aware of the opportunity to receive these funds, the limitations on the funds, and the anticipated timelines for awarding funding.
Participants raised concerns that communities with existing partnerships may have an advantage in responding to a Request for Application compared to those with no existing collaboration. Local school and mental health leaders questioned whether $50 million was enough to respond to local needs and encouraged the Commission to consider making additional resources available.
In response, the Commission approved $75 million in funding over four fiscal years, with funds reserved both for counties with and without existing school mental health partnerships and for small, medium, and large counties.
In August of 2021, the Commission surveyed the 20 Phase 3 counties that did not apply for an MHSSA grant to understand why they did not apply for prior MHSSA funding, what challenges they face in accessing MHSSA grant dollars, and if they have the ability to apply for newly available MHSSA funds.
On September 22, 2021, the Commission held a listening session with the 20 Phase 3 counties which included members from county mental/behavioral health departments and county office of education. The intent of the listening session was to present information on the latest funding opportunity, an overview of the procurement process, receive feedback and comments from the local partners, and hear concerns related to applying for the grants and being able to operate an MHSSA program.
Several themes emerged in the survey and listening session, including a county’s ability to hire qualified staff, especially in rural areas. Local partners reported that their resources are stretched thin, first from the COVID-19 pandemic and now in many counties from wildfires, and many did not have the capacity to write a grant application or have access to grant writers for a complex application process.
MHSSA partnership programs should include the following goals:
- Preventing mental illnesses from becoming severe and disabling
- Improving timely access to services for underserved populations
- Providing outreach to families, employers, primary health care providers, and others to promote recognition of early signs of potentially severe and disabling mental illnesses
- Reducing stigma associated with the diagnosis of a mental illness or seeking mental health services
- Reducing discrimination against people with unmet mental health needs
- Preventing negative outcomes in the targeted populations, including, but not limited to:
- Suicide and attempted suicide
- School failure or dropout
- Prolonged suffering
- Removal of children from their homes
- Involuntary health detention
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