“Students often come to school with multiple complex health, mental health and social service needs. Schools can play an important role in curating healthy environments that seek to prevent and mitigate the onset of health and mental health conditions. Developing and promoting models in which mental health and substance use screening, treatment and support services are integrated into school and pediatric settings can help to ensure that children, youth and adolescents with needs (along with their families) are identified earlier and gain access to treatment and other support services,” says the Federal Commission on School Safety’s School Safety Report, released in December 2018.

The report notes that less than half of children and adolescents with a mental disorder receive the treatment they need. Of those who did receive treatment, 24 percent were in school-based settings, 23 percent in specialty mental health settings like community-based mental health centers, and 10 percent in primary care.

“Given the amount of time children spend there, schools are a natural environment in which to provide these services,” the report notes.

The most successful mental health service integration programs in schools include buy-in from leaders, and exhibit effective communication and collaboration among the integrated care team. School mental health programs have also been shown to improve academics.

As a result of its research, the Federal Commission on School Safety recommends that all appropriate federal agencies support the implementation of evidence-based diversion models, including providing step-by-step guidance for schools on how to build an approach that best meets the mental health, developmental and educational needs of children and youths in their school systems.