Our country is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis among young people. The isolation and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a deeply negative impact on the well-being of young people in particular. Late last month, after pointing to the crisis during his first State of the Union, President Biden and his Administration announced two new, significant actions aimed at addressing youth mental health:
- Beginning the roll out of nearly $300 million in Federal funding to support a range of priorities, including funding for the Mental Health Service Progressional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program, the School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant Program, and, subsequently, resources for evidence-based and culturally relevant trauma supports, expanded funding for full-service community schools, and increased efforts to mitigate the effects of school and community violence;
- Encouraging governors around the country to leverage Federal resources to strengthen mental health services for young people, and ensure that children enrolled in Medicaid have access to comprehensive services, as required by law.
These immediate steps are only part of the Federal government’s focus on mental health, wellbeing, and trauma-informed approaches; the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – the most significant gun reform legislation in a generation – included nearly $2 billion in investment for mental and behavioral health support and services to students in need. This historic investment includes increased funding for Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act to improve conditions for student learning, including developing positive school climates through evidence-based practices, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers for extracurricular, after-school, and summer programs.
All of these resources are critically important. Students, educators, families, and school communities continue to face a myriad of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and persistent, horrific school violence are creating massive disruption and trauma in communities across the country and, for millions of students, these crises are compounding existing barriers to healthy learning and development, including hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
The actions of Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration reflect a growing awareness that holistic, trauma-informed approaches must be a fundamental element of our education system. Individual traumatic events and generational trauma (like poverty and homelessness) can have an outsize impact on young people’s mental health and their ability to learn, grow, and thrive. So our education system must account for and respond to this trauma with proven, personalized approaches that meet students, educators, and families where they are, and help develop the skills necessary to effectively navigate trauma.
These actions also speak to the importance of continued advocacy from school community members, experts, and partners. America Forward – along with several partners and members of the America Forward Coalition – has been advocating for the RENEW Act, legislation that would establish a $1 billion new, bold, trauma-informed, whole-learner initiative that recognizes and meets the holistic needs of our students and addresses the varying traumatic experiences brought about by the pandemic. That these concepts are now being included more robustly in Federal policy and appropriations shows the impact when Federal policymakers are connected with the experiences and proven approaches of educators, families, and partners at the community level.
Now, the focus turns to implementation and what’s next. Greater investment in the MHSP and SBMH are important steps that will provide real benefits to students and school communities across the country. Additional FY22 funding, as well as the additional resources contained in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, should be distributed without delay, and with an intentional focus on building evidence of effectiveness and scaling the approaches with the most significant, positive outcomes. And we will continue to push for even greater focus on holistic, trauma-informed approaches – through policies like the RENEW Act. Trauma is not limited to one community or one time period, so policy efforts and investments intended to combat trauma must be sustained and focused on the most effective solutions.
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