Mental health group drafts 30 recommendations for Idaho schools

A group of Idaho educators, mental health advocates and parents have suggested 30 ways that Idaho schools could better address youth mental health, ranging from universal mental health screenings for kids to “help lines” for educators.

The recommendations came out of a series of virtual meetings that State Department of Education Student Engagement & Safety coordinator Eric Studebaker held this spring, with about 75 stakeholders from the health and education arenas.

Idaho’s need for youth mental health support is extensive, urgent and inflamed by COVID-19, but student access to services varies district to district. The SDE conducted its first survey of mental health supports in local school districts last year, then assembled the stakeholder group to make recommendations for how Idaho should move forward.

Studebaker plans to submit the recommendations to State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra this summer. The group has one more meeting in late May to refine the proposals before Studebaker takes the ideas to SDE leadership. Studebaker anticipates that the recommendations will inform a work plan that the department could release this fall.

The first draft of recommendations includes:

  • Creating statewide resources, including: a dashboard of current social-emotional learning data, a resource page that lists which communities are offering which services, a professional learning community of districts who are working on mental health, and a statewide student/family assistance program.
  • Boosting the number of social workers and counselors in schools, and funding those positions in rural districts.
  • Using universal mental health screeners to help identify students who need more support.
  • Increasing mental health support for educators, perhaps through confidential “help lines” or counseling.
  • Increasing district partnerships with mental health agencies, or with one another to share services.
  • Using student-led messaging around mental health.
  • Providing ongoing training for educators around trauma-informed practices.

Studebaker said his team has consolidated some of the recommendations. He doesn’t plan to narrow the recommendations down to a select few, but will let the SDE’s executive team establish priorities.

“It’s a heckuva lot better than I could have done by myself,” Studebaker said of the recommendations. “I appreciated so many people giving their time.”

To learn more about Idaho’s approach to youth mental health, read this Idaho EdNews series about how districts are grappling with student anxiety and depression across the state.   

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