Success and Impact

‘School Mental Health 101’ Resource Aims To Link Schools, Health Providers

A close up of a young person's smiling face. They appear to be embraced in a hug

The COVID-19 pandemic added endless new challenges, stressors, and trauma for California’s children, exacerbating an already troubling uptick in mental health needs. In response to this crisis, state lawmakers have launched an effort to grow partnerships between schools and Medi-Cal mental health providers to expand access to care for students across the state. 

Recognizing that this is an important opportunity to improve children’s mental health and wellness — and one that should not go to waste — NCYL authored a critical resource aimed at ensuring youth receive the services they need.

“School Mental Health 101: A Primer for Medi-Cal Managed Care Plans” was developed by NCYL and the California Children’s Trust, with support from the California Health Care Foundation and Hopelab. It serves to inform effective, impactful school-health collaboration, and helps ensure students have access to the social, emotional, and mental health support they need and deserve.

Connecting schools and providers

In an apparent recognition that helping California students heal is an urgent matter, state leaders announced in 2021 that California would invest more than $4 billion in an initiative aimed at improving mental health care for children and youth.

This investment includes an incentive program for Medi-Cal Managed Care Plans (MCPs), intended to increase access to school-based and school-linked care for students on Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program.

To implement effective school partnerships that will truly add value, however, MCPs must start by developing a deep understanding of — and commitment to addressing — the expressed needs of the students and families they are serving. MCPs will also need to equip themselves with a solid understanding of how schools work, what mental health supports and services schools are already providing for students, and where there are gaps and unmet needs.

The ”School Mental Health 101” primer is intended to help jumpstart that learning process by providing MCPs with an introduction to California’s vast and complex K-12 education system. Specifically, the primer:

  • Provides an overview of California’s K-12 public education system;
  • Describes existing practices and programs for supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing in schools; and
  • Offers high-level guidance and templates for Managed Care Plans embarking on school partnerships.

No time to waste

Many students have returned to in-person learning with new or heightened fears, anxieties, and emotional needs. Families, teachers, and school staff are helping students navigate this reality while also recovering from two academic years of severe learning loss. In under-resourced schools and communities — which have borne the brunt of the crisis — the challenge is especially staggering. Most of the children and youth served by these schools are Black and Brown, underscoring the systemic inequities of our child-serving systems.

These child-serving systems must break through historical silos and provide a robust, coordinated response to identifying and meeting children’s needs, early and effectively. Failing to do so will lead to negative long-term outcomes for students, and deepen existing inequities in access to healthcare and education.

The “School Mental Health 101” primer aims to help facilitate conversations between MCPs, schools and other partners to address this growing mental health crisis.