Yesterday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that the DeForest Area School District was one of three new school districts to receive funding for the expansion of the School Based Mental Health Teams, a program developed and spearheaded by Parisi in his 2014 budget as his most significant policy initiative of that budget.
At the time, the initiative was the first in the state and seen as an innovative step towards addressing mental health for our youth. The successful first of its kind pilot project in Madison, Sun Prairie and Verona is now being expanded to provide access to elementary and middle schools through a grant program offered to all other school districts in Dane County. The three new school districts won a competitive request for proposal process. Director of Pupil Services Barb Buffington wrote the grant proposal on behalf of DeForest to help connect youth with critical mental health services before a crisis occurs.
“The effects of mental illness are far reaching, affecting classrooms, families, and workplaces,” said County Executive Parisi. “DeForest, Wisconsin Heights and Middleton Cross Plains applications demonstrate their commitment to partnering to address critical mental health issues early. I am thrilled this program has resulted in such success for our youth struggling with mental health issues.”
Buffington and several of her staff joined officials from the Middleton-Cross Plains and Wisconsin Heights districts at a press conference for the announcement. According to Buffington, DeForest did fund a pilot version this year as a 60-day mental health stabilization program. “With this grant, we can further meet the growing mental health needs of our students with Building Bridges, so we are just thrilled that we were one of the selected winners,” said Buffington. “What makes this program so successful is the partnership with families providing services in their home and helping schools to maintain or rebuild trusting relationships with families so that we can work together in their students’ successes. I want to thank County Executive Parisi and my team of staff that helped with the grant.”
DASD Superintendent Sue Borden shared Buffington’s sentiments. “We are thrilled that County Executive Parisi and our County Board recognize the needs of our students and families in the area of mental health services,” said Borden. “We hope the County will continue its good work in districts with limited access to mental health resources.”
The DeForest Area School District will receive $63,000 each for two years to bring a team of trained professionals into classrooms, partnering with teachers, parents, and law enforcement on addressing the root causes of genuine feelings and behaviors that sometimes manifest themselves as barriers to learning. Catholic Charities will provide the services through a county contract.
The recently completed Dane County Youth Assessment of students across Dane county exemplifies the imperative nature of the county’s work in this area. More than one in five students in 7th through 12th grade stated they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks that they stopped some usual activities. Just under one in five admitted to giving serious thought to killing themselves. 38% of high school students surveyed reported having long term emotional or mental health issues including depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or other mental health problem not including attention deficit disorder.
County Executive Parisi will attend the February 22 Board of Education meeting in DeForest to kick off the partnership.