The BFNs and the school staff met regularly to ensure that both groups were on the same page and communicating effectively. Schools and social service agencies tend to use slightly different vocabulary, so translating between the two groups was essential for early success. The BFNs worked with building-level counselors, principals, and teachers to reach out to students and address needs.

Many students became formal clients of Meridian Health, but the partnership provided for a percentage of the services provided by Meridian to be just-in-time crisis services for any student in need. This immediate access to mental-health services has helped our district reduce student discipline issues and return students to classrooms more quickly. Previously, students had to leave the building for a day or more to access mental-health services.

Accessing additional community resources
The BFNs, along with some MCS staff, went through Family Navigator training brought to the community through the lead of the United Way. The training allowed everyone involved to learn about additional resources, including food pantries and housing support, that can help our students’ families in their quest for success.

Meridian Health and MCS both committed administrative time to coordinate the efforts of the BFNs. They used federal mental health funding to underwrite the majority of the costs of the embedded BFNs and obtained some grant funding to help launch the program.

Sarah Price, assistant director of student services at MCS, says that the program “has been wonderfully beneficial for students, staff, and families.” Overall, the program has allowed more consistent and reliable mental-health services throughout our schools, built a stronger relationship between both partner organizations, and helped to reduce suspensions by about a third. This is one important step to ensuring our students can experience school in a safe and supportive environment. As one school nurse stated, with Meridian staff in place, we have one more tool “when a crisis occurs” with a student.

“It is a model program more districts should replicate to benefit children and their families,” says Heidi Monroe, director of children’s services for Meridian Health. For a more detailed review of the program, read “Integrating Positive Behavior Intervention Support and Embedded Mental Health Personnel in an Urban School District,” in the April Annals of Public Health and Research special issue on school-based healthcare.

About the Author:

Steve Baule, a former Midwestern school administrator, is an assistant professor of educational leadership at UW-Superior.