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School Mental Health Program Changing Trajectory Of 700+ Young People

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A program that offers mental health services at 22 Wichita schools is finishing its first year with signs of success.

The program is a partnership between Sedgwick County’s Comcare and the Wichita school district. Comcare provides mental health intervention teams at designated elementary, middle and high schools to assess and treat students. School officials handle the referrals.

More than 700 students received services during the school day this past year. Comcare executive director Joan Tammany says the program increases access to mental health treatment.

“Families feel like they have increased options and support for their family members," Tammany says. "Many people may never have come to see a mental health professional if they had to drive somewhere or take on another appointment outside of this natural setting."

Comcare and the district collected data from this first year of the pilot program. They found positive outcomes for students’ attendance, behavior and academic performance. Tammany says 66% of students in the program had an increase in school attendance, 68% had improved performance in school behavior and 52% had improved academic performance.

“This partnership … has been a successful pilot,” says Wichita Schools Deputy Superintendent Tiffinie Irving. “We did not know what all to expect at the beginning of the year, but are pleased to be able to partner with Comcare to provide what we have found to be much-needed services to our students.”

Irving says providing mental health services at school gave students an opportunity to build relationships with therapists they see in their buildings.

“It allowed them to feel comfortable and build trust in order to reach out to those individuals as needed," she says, "not only for therapy services but just as a check-in."

Wichita is one of several school districts statewide testing the program. The Kansas Legislature approved $10 million for the one-year pilot last year. The 2020 budget includes $8 million to continue the program another year.

Tammany says the funding level is essentially the same because the state saved money developing a software system in house instead of using a vendor.

“We helped a lot of youth who otherwise would have never have received mental health services," she says. "We have improved lives and we have saved lives."

The Wichita Board of Education also provides funding. Irving says the positive impact the program has had on students makes it a district priority to continue services long term.

“We are in the process of reviewing all types of data to make decisions whether those 22 schools are the schools that we will continue next year or whether we should consider other school sites,” Irving says.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.