SASD Pupil Services strives to break down mental health barriers
Director of Pupil Services Amber Kulig recently sought the school board’s approval for a two-year, grant-funded position. The board approved hiring a mental health navigator, which will be a temporary position within the Sparta Area School District.
According to Kulig, about 79 percent of children with mental health disorders nationwide do not receive treatment.
The district surveyed many individuals, including staff, parents and community partners; 90.2 percent of staff felt a need for mental health services and 95.6 percent felt the district needed a Mental Health Navigator.
“They are looking at helping our families break down some of those barriers to help them access some of those needs as well as our staff knowing where to go to help support our families in need,” Kulig explained.
Of the parents and families that were surveyed, 36.5 percent did not know where to access mental health supports for their family and 32.1 percent had to wait over one month to receive any form of service.
The purpose of a mental health navigator is to support district personnel and families with assistance in accessing treatment and navigating mental health services.
The position will be funded by a grant the district was awarded from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction through its School Based Mental Health Services Grants Program. The district will receive $75,000 per school year for the next two years totaling $150,000 to support students' mental health.
“We were very fortunate that we were selected for this grant,” Kulig said, adding the district’s grant application was written based solely on the needs that community and staff had communicated were important.
“Our biggest goal with this position is to look at professional development,” she added. “Helping our staff really understand the mental health needs in our students, how that impacts their daily lives and also how the things students are bringing to us impact our staff.”
Another big piece is the ability to remove barriers from working with the county and working with counseling networks. Kulig said staff has found that families are struggling to access some of those resources or even fill out forms.
“When you’re looking for these supports you get a very large packet of all this information that can be very overwhelming,” Kulig added. “This person would help assist our families with some of those processes to ensure that all of our students have access to the supports that they need.”
Another goal of the districts through this position is connecting and supporting families. The Pupil Services team is meeting with families on a daily basis, multiple times each day and the biggest frustration they are hearing is teachers and parents know the students need support, however, getting that access is very challenging.
“This role would really be looking at building those systems for our district. How and what is the best way to access these supports?” Kulig explained. “How can we work with our county’s supports and how can we work with the local counselors to make sure those barriers don’t exist for our students so their needs are being met? Then they can be successful in the classroom and at home and within the community.”
Since the position is 100 percent grant-funded there will be no additional cost to the district.
Kulig explained that it might be ideal to fill the position with a social worker or someone who understands the county-side of mental health services as well the school-side.
“Then maybe we could work on creating that collaborative approach between county, local providers as well as the district all coming around the table with somebody that understands all of those worlds,” she said. “Then we could break down some of those silos so we can come together as a strong team to help support our community better.”
Board Vice President Joshua Lydon questioned Kulig as to whether or not this position would be necessary as part of the district’s infrastructure beyond two years.
Kulig said there is a high potential that the district may find the position is invaluable and there are a couple different options past those two years the district could look at.
During the two years, the district would spend a lot of time building the foundational work and collecting data to determine what is the value of the position.
“My assumption would be that we’re going to find great value in this position to support our families and our community,” Kulig said.
She added there have been other local districts that have partnered together to continue similar support. Kulig has also heard of districts partnering with their county providers and Sparta could look at potentially partnering with Monroe County to look at possibly employing the position beyond the two years.
“I’d like to see something going beyond this two years,” Lydon said. “That would require us as a board putting some sort of funds together toward this initiative because this is definitely a need I see, not just here, but nationwide.”