The Twin Falls School District announced this week that it will tap into federal COVID-19 relief funds to offer a new service to students and families this fall: free counseling sessions with a mental health professional, and an emergency crisis hotline.
The program, similar to one in Cassia County, allows students to get set up for a handful of in-person or virtual counseling sessions with a local provider, paid for by the district.
“As we talked with school counselors and other stakeholders about ways that we can really have an impact on mental health in our community, just offering services is a great way to do that,” district spokeswoman Eva Craner said. The district already partners with mental health clinicians to offer school-based counseling, Craner added, but “there’s just not enough: Not enough people, not enough availability.”
The district will use COVID-19 relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act to cover the cost of the service, which will be provided through BPA Health. Craner said the cost factors out to about $1.95 per student, per month — a maximum of $224,810 for a full calendar year.
Supporting the mental health of students and staff is part of the districts’ strategic plan. BPA Health provides counseling benefits for district staff members through an employee assistance program, and the district recently increased the number of sessions staff can access from three to 10. When Twin Falls administrators learned BPA Health could also help connect students and families to counseling, it seemed like a “no brainer,” Craner said — especially as students are grappling with the emotional fallout of the pandemic, and the federal government has allocated COVID relief dollars with an emphasis on helping support youth mental health.
The American Rescue Plan Act requires both states and school districts to publish plans for spending covid relief funds, including how the funds will address the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and staff.
The ARP money is a one-time thing. The district doesn’t yet know if, or how, it will pay for the service longterm, Craner said. Regardless, officials decided to invest in the service even as they’re still plotting a path forward.
“We’re really excited to provide a resource, even if it’s just in the short term for our students. Obviously something like this could have a really big lasting impact for our whole community as the children coming through our system become better prepared to cope with the stressors in their lives,” Craner said. “It’s a prime time to see what we can do now, and hopefully we’ll be able to figure out a way to do it in the future.”
Students and families can access five free counseling sessions per challenge that they’re working through. That means a student could access free counseling to work through anxiety, then return for more help if they later had a death in the family, for example, or another life challenge. The service goes live on September 1.
“We don’t really know how many students will utilize it, but we hope as many as need it,” Craner said.
As schools publish their ARP spending plans, Idaho Education news will closely track their plans for addressing youth social and emotional health, a need that state education leaders have dubbed a top priority.
How does your district plan to address social and emotional health needs with federal funds? Let reporter Sami Edge know at [email protected].
Find more news on Idaho’s needs for youth mental health support, here.