News Update

Tulare County will use federal money to bolster mental health services in schools

Over the next five years, millions of dollars in federal money will be delivered to fourteen high-needs California school districts or offices of education, in hopes they will boost the number of mental health professionals to help students. That is especially needed in rural areas, officials say. 

One of those funded projects is in Tulare County, which sits in the southeastern Central Valley with a population of nearly half a million people. The $2.9 million for Tulare County will go toward hiring and retaining mental health professionals, according to Marvin Lopez, the executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers, which is housed in the Tulare County Office of Education. 

The money comes from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed in 2022. 

Lopez said the pilot project began in 2019 and saw success in placing in Tulare County schools over 30 graduates from partner colleges such as CSU Fresno, Bakersfield and San Bernardino, and Boise State, Grand Canyon University and UMass Global. The funding will go toward financial incentives for retaining the future counselors, therapists and social workers who complete their clinical training at the schools. 

But Lopez said one of the findings during the pilot program was that retention was difficult. “Oftentimes, they might go and get employment at a clinic instead of getting employment with the school district,” he said. 

The project will give interns a living stipend of $20,000 for the full year of clinical training, then a $5,000 bonus every year for the first three years they are employed at a Tulare County school. The school will also receive a financial incentive “to help offset the cost of hiring project graduates for the first three years,” Lopez said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year announced a similar goal to boost the number of mental health professionals in schools, aiming to create incentives and pipelines for students to train. 

Youth mental health issues were already of concern before 2020, but studies have found that the pandemic caused a mental health crisis, especially among teens. 

Other high-needs schools in California that will receive grants are: Northern Humboldt Union High School District, Eureka City Schools, Santa Clara County Office of Education, Madera Unified School District, Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District, Riverside County Office of Education, Conejo Valley Unified School District, Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School, Ukiah Unified School District, Lemon Grove School District, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, and the Imperial County Office of Education.

“A well-staffed school with high-quality teachers and robust staff of mental health professionals is the goal we’re working towards to ensure every California student has a strong educational experience where their needs are met,” Lopez said.

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