Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday that the county government has proposed $2.1 million in funding so that every student in the Howard County Public School System will have access to mental health services for at least two years.
The funds, proposed in Ball’s fiscal 2023 Howard County budget, are meant to expand a school-based mental health program that had served only some schools to all 57,325 students in the county’s 77 public schools and to subsidize mental health resources in the community for vulnerable youth, according to a news release.
“Even before the pandemic exacerbated this crisis, we recognized the gap in mental health services, especially for our students and young residents,” Ball said in the release. “With this funding, we’re filling the gap for children and families who historically have difficulty accessing this critical, life-saving mental health care.”
In 2018, the Maryland High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 28% of Howard County high school students said they had felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more and one in six high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the release.
In 2021, the Maryland Department of Health stated that 36% of Maryland high school students who completed a survey felt sad or hopeless every day for two weeks in a row in the prior year and one in five high school students seriously considered suicide in the prior 12 months.
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The number was disproportionately high for Black students at 37% and LGBTQ+ students at 57%, according to the release.
“Anxiety, depression, fear and a host of other issues are impacting our children’s ability to learn, and we cannot expect them to thrive academically until we tend to their social-emotional and mental health needs,” HCPSS Board of Education Chair Vicky Cutroneo said in the release. “The school board has prioritized funding for an expansion of school-based mental health services in this year’s budget. I am grateful that our county partners understand they also have an important role to play and [are] doing so on behalf of children.”
Of the committed $2.1 million in funding, $1.7 million is planned to expand the county’s School-Based Mental Health Services program to all county public schools for the next two years. The program makes social workers available in schools to increase access to student mental health services and works to create a school culture that is accepting of the importance of mental health.
The remaining $380,000 will be used to expand HoCo STRIVES, an umbrella organization for several initiatives that work to ensure all county children can succeed in school.
STRIVES works to remove barriers to mental health access by providing a parent-coaching program, support for under-insured and uninsured families and those that need intensive care, targeted case management and transportation to therapy, according to the release.
“The past two years have been challenging for all of us and we know students are no exception,” HCPSS Superintendent Michael Martirano said in the release. “I am grateful for Dr. Calvin Ball, the Horizon Foundation, our county’s health department, and the board of education, for prioritizing mental health access for our students.”