Milken Institute School of Public Health Awarded Contract to Support Mental Health Care in Washington, D.C. Public Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 19, 2019) – The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS) at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) today announced a contract award from the District of Columbia Government, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), to support the District’s plan to provide comprehensive behavioral health care to all students in D.C. public and public charter schools by providing technical assistance and support to the community-based provider organizations delivering services. The initial 12-month contract term is valued at $780,750, with the potential for an additional $3 million, if all four of the option years of the contract are exercised by the District.  

“The school-based behavioral health program is designed to increase access to behavioral health services to children and youth attending our public and public charter schools. Through this effort, we can help remove emotional barriers to learning so students can thrive,” said Barbara J.  Bazron, PhD, director of DBH. “This effort is a collaboration among teachers, school leadership and families to support emotional wellness and pro-social behavior among our children and youth.

A DBH-led Coordinating Council made up of teachers, parents and community providers is guiding the development and implementation of school-based services, with the goal of expanding to all schools by the 2023-2024 school year.

“We will partner with schools and the contracted community-based organizations to facilitate the implementation of known best practices that will allow these school-community teams to better address the mental health needs of students and their families,” said Olga Acosta Price, PhD, director of CHHCS, and an associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “By strengthening these tiered systems of support, we will foster positive connections to school, detect emerging problems at a faster rate and identify which students need more tailored support so that all students are set up for success.”

CHHCS will work in partnership with DBH, D.C. public and public charter schools, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to help schools and mental health providers incorporate best practices for integrating mental health care into the academic setting to support positive development among students. CHHCS will also partner with CRP, Inc. to support the effort.

“We know that to close the opportunity gap, we have to meet the needs of our students inside and outside of the classroom,” said Lewis D. Ferebee, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. “As we continue to focus on the social, emotional and academic well-being of our students, I welcome opportunities for our mental health staff to learn and share with other clinicians across the city through the community of practice.”

Consistent with national statistics, one in five children in the District has or will have a serious mental health problem that is likely to go untreated. The risk of developing a more severe mental disorder is much higher among children who must persistently weather stressful conditions. These children are more likely to experience behavioral or learning difficulties in school. Struggling students are also more likely to fight, be suspended or expelled from schools.

“Educators agree that a school is better able to educate its students when they are able to address their social and emotional well-being,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. “That’s why we are enthusiastic about the support of the community of practice.”

With schools and communities working together to address mental health concerns, the hope is that students will get the services they need at the time they need it to stay healthy, achieve academic success and thrive.