Anoka-Hennepin to expand mental health services for students

The number of licensed mental health professionals working in Anoka-Hennepin schools will double next year, thanks in part to a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Switching from prevention and intervention models to more comprehensive school-based mental health services at the beginning of this school year, Anoka-Hennepin contracted with Headway Emotional Health Services to create 10 full-time equivalent positions for licensed mental health therapists in the schools.

A combination of district dollars and third-party billing funds school-based mental health services. Students who utilize the services are charged a co-pay or deductible if they can afford it, but the district looks out for uninsured or underinsured students, according to Nita Kumar, the district’s mental health consultant.

Licensed therapists provide clinical mental health services for students, which include formal diagnostics and treatment.

Mental health professionals address anxiety, chemical health issues and depression fairly regularly in Anoka-Hennepin, Kumar said.

So far, several hundred students across all grade levels have taken advantage of these services, with parent permission. Countless others have benefited from ancillary support provided by school nurses, psychologists, social workers, counselors and more, according to Kumar.

“We were starting to hear that their case loads were getting full,” particularly at the elementary level, Kumar said of the licensed mental health professionals.

So, Anoka-Hennepin made plans to add five more FTEs for therapists next year for a total of 15 FTEs for mental health professionals. They will work out of all five regular high schools; Crossroads Alternative High School; Anoka and Oak View middle schools; Adams, Andover, Franklin, Monroe and Morris Bye elementary schools; and Compass Programs.

People Incorporated, a nonprofit that serves those with mental illnesses, primarily in the Twin Cities, approached Kumar about working with Anoka-Hennepin if additional school-linked grant money came through from the state.

Since 2008, the state has allocated $4.8 million for school-linked mental health programs annually, but in the last legislative session, the amount was increased to $7.2 million in 2014, and $9.8 million from 2015 forward.

May 8, the Department of Human Services announced $45.4 million in grants over the next five years.

People Incorporated will receive $3.8 million, more than double what the organization has received previous years.

In the Twin Cities metro, the organization will continue working with Osseo and Robbinsdale school districts and begin contracts with Anoka-Hennepin and Intermediate District 287, a consortium of 12 west metro districts.

Ten FTEs from People Incorporated will bring the total number of positions for licensed mental health professionals in the district to 30 FTEs.

People Incorporated staff will serve Andover, Evergreen, Madison, Oxbow Creek and University Avenue elementary schools; Coon Rapids, Jackson and Northdale middle schools; Early Childhood Special Education programs; and River Trail Learning Center.

Associate superintendents and directors of community education and special education, in consultation with Kumar, determined which schools had the greatest need for licensed mental health professionals.

“We’ve already covered all of the high schools,” Kumar said. “Where we were seeing gaps was elementary and middle school.”

Building a continuum

Kumar has been working closely with staff to implement free mental health screening for all students, with parent permission. It’s not a universal screening, but everyone is welcome to participate.

“We’re really trying to build a continuum of services here, so we want to catch those kids early if they’re struggling with anything,” Kumar said.

Also new this year is a document distributed to every employee in the district that outlines the warning signs of mental illnesses. The document provides next steps so that staff will know how to appropriately refer students to get the help they need.

Since Kumar came to Anoka-Hennepin in 2012, “there’s been substantial movement in where we’re putting our resources,” she said. The district has gone from zero FTEs for licensed mental health therapists to 30 in two years.

“It’s very exciting,” she said.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]