Award to increase mental health services available to students & address school-based mental health professional shortage
Congressman Brian Higgins on Wednesday joined Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie in announcing a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Education totaling over $2.49 million over a five-year grant period for Niagara Falls Schools. The award, over $498,000 annually, will put additional mental health resources in schools, increase community and family outreach, provide training to help teachers identify needs early, and expand the pipeline of mental health professionals into the school setting to reduce shortages.
Higgins said, “This grant allows the Niagara Falls School District to get to the core of what may be causing discipline, attention or absentee problems, providing children with access to the professional support needed to put them on a successful path in school and beyond.”
"This grant helps our district with something that we have found to be paramount in the education of our children: sound mental hygiene," Laurrie said. "Students must have the help they need to combat issues like depression and anxiety in order to learn and function at their best."
The Niagara Falls City School District, working with Niagara University and other higher-education community partners, will implement a five-year mental health service professional demonstration project that will add five graduate-level social worker interns, five school psychologist interns, and five school counseling interns, increasing district mental health capacity by 15 part-time staff annually. The additional staff will work in 11 district schools, interacting with 7,200 students in grades prekindergarten through 12.
Census data reports over 38% of Niagara Falls families with children under 18 live below the poverty level, nearly double the national average. Individuals in high poverty households are twice as likely to be exposed to violent victimization, impacting mental health.
The grant will also allow for professional development initiatives to help teachers recognize trauma-induced behaviors sooner allowing for early intervention and to support implementation strategies related to improving student social and emotional development.
Parenting workshops and resources will also be made available to help families maintain violence-free homes and neighborhoods. An advisory committee will be created with community stakeholders including faith-based, child welfare, violence prevention and youth service agencies.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children/adolescents experience a mental health problem during their school years; yet an estimated 60% don’t receive treatment due to stigma and lack of services.