States: Don’t Pass Up Federal Dollars to Strengthen Youth Mental Health Services | The Kennedy Forum

States: Don’t Pass Up Federal Dollars to Strengthen Youth Mental Health Services
September 15, 2022

By Amy Kennedy

Over the past month, more than 50 million kids went back to school. It’s an exciting time for families and educators alike; however, the start of a new school year can also bring about new waves of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges our youth are facing in increasing numbers. For many of these kids, school is the only opportunity they will have to get help.

The critical shortage of mental health professionals across the country is even more acute for school systems. Fully meeting students’ social and emotional needs is impossible to do with teachers alone, so it’s essential that states and school districts make every effort to build out programs that provide training and pathways into school-based mental health fields.

Planning for and funding these programs can be a daunting task. In fact, the Hopeful Futures Campaign found nearly every state is behind on recommended ratios of school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. (1:500 for school psychologists, 1:250 for social workers, and 1:250 for counselors). Only D.C. and Idaho met the recommended ratios for school psychologists.

But thanks to the FY22 Appropriations and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, there are significant new federal funds available to support school-based mental health programming and workforce-building efforts. The deadlines for many grant opportunities are quickly approaching. Below are four great opportunities:

School Mental Health Programming

  • Project AWARE grants will fund school-based mental health programs and services through collaborative partnerships with state, local, and tribal education agencies; state mental health agencies; and families, youth, and community-based providers and organizations. Applications are due on October 13th. More info on Project AWARE grants here.

School Mental Health Workforce Pipeline

  • The newly announced School-Based Mental Health Services (SBMH) grant program is geared toward increasing school mental health personnel through recruitment and retention incentives, and supporting existing mental health providers to qualify to work in local education agencies. The U.S. Department of Education is expected to award over $140 million and many grants may be eligible for annual continuation awards. Find more on the SBMH grant program here. We expect applications to open this fall.
  • Similar to SBMH, the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration (MHSP)grant program will fund training and career pathways into school-based mental health fields through partnerships between institutions of higher education and state or local education agencies. Find out more about the MHSP grant program here.

Telehealth and Primary Care

  • Lastly, a not-so-new program­—the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access (PMHCA) program—promotes behavioral health integration into pediatric primary care settings using telehealth. The PMHCA program funds telehealth modalities to provide timely detection, assessment, treatment, and referral of children and youth with behavioral health conditions. We understand this year PMHCA grants may be open to schools seeking to expand their tele-mental health capabilities. We expect applications to open sometime in September. Learn more about the current PMHCA programming here.

Let’s not leave critical funding on the table, especially in a time of such great need. If you have any questions, feel free to connect with The Kennedy Forum’s Policy Advisor, Lauren Finke (