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San Benito
May 25, 2024

Education office, county bring more mental health services to students

Courtesy of the San Benito County Office of Education:

Among the expansions of Behavioral Health services, San Benito County Office of Education (SBCOE) has collaborated with the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department (SBCBHD) to bring additional mental health services to students across the county. The SBCOE and SBCBHD collaboration is helping to maximize district and county resources so that every student has access to mental health services when needed regardless of where they attend school. Together, the eleven public school districts and county office programs educate over 11,000 students each year. For the past several years, San Benito County has seen an increase in the desire for mental health services. Parents, school staff and mental health providers are reporting an increase in student’s anxiety, depression and other behavioral health related issues.

Through grants and other specialized funding, schools have worked to provide additional school counselors, social workers and mental health therapists to address the growing need. The San Benito County Behavioral Health Department has also provided various mental health supports to schools, including substance abuse counseling and mental health therapy. Despite the increase in services, the resources are often available only in the larger high school and middles schools, leaving smaller, rural schools and elementary students with less access to mental health services than students who attend larger schools. The partnership between the two agencies addresses much of the concerns for resource availability for every campus in the county.

Although SBCBHD provides mental health services at their location on San Felipe Road, initial discussions between the two agencies determined that providing mental health services on school campuses would allow students to seek and receive services easier. Because families often have strong relationships with school staff, SBCBHD began placing case managers, utilizing mental health prevention funds, at several school sites in the county in 2018, including SBCOE’s Alternative Education Programs. Behavioral Health Case Managers work with school staff to identify students and then work directly with students and families at the school site. Case Managers provide guidance on how to handle difficulties students and parents may be facing and may link them directly to other appropriate mental health services if needed. Case Managers provide general support but not therapy, which must be provided by a mental health clinician. In March 2020, SBCOE and SBCBHD began a pilot program to provide mental health therapy to students at the school site through a Behavioral Health, Mental Health Clinician. The mental health clinician works directly with students to help identify alleviate any issues that may be affecting their educational and personal life. Although the program incurred limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was successful and resulted in a full expansion of the program this fall.

In early September, SBCOE and SBCBHD met with districts to discuss mental health resources available at each school site and determine areas of highest need. Based on that information, part-time Case Managers and Mental Health Clinicians have been placed on-site at schools in the county’s five largest districts and the Alternative Education Programs. The smallest six districts receive services on a rotational basis at least once each month, with emergency intervention available as needed. SBCOE and SBCBHD meet quarterly to monitor and adjust services based on the needs of the students and families at each school. Due to the current COVID limitations, as an interim option much of the planned behavioral health service delivery work is available through video and telephone linkage pending the ability to resume in-person on-campus interactions again.