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Congressman Brian Higgins addresses the crowd. (Submitted photo)
Congressman Brian Higgins addresses the crowd. (Submitted photo)

Higgins & Laurrie announce nearly $3.5 million in mental health funding for Niagara Falls City School District


Fri, Feb 3rd 2023 03:35 pm

5-year grant supports school-, community-based mental health services

Congressman Brian Higgins joined Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie on Friday to announce a five-year grant totaling close to $3.5 million. Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and funded by the School-Based Mental Health Services program, the grant will be used to support school and community mental health programs while creating opportunities for local graduate students.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the events that the Western New York community has endured over the past year, have made it abundantly clear that mental health must be a priority, especially among kids and teens,” Higgins said. “Mental health services in schools provide students and families access to support for a strong foundation. Funding announced today will help students cope with trauma and challenges, so that they can be successful in life.”

Laurrie said, "The need for social workers and other mental health care providers in our schools is still great and will only increase. The financial and educational supports this grant provides, along with the real-world experience and professional development the students receive, make me hopeful that the district will have plenty of social workers to assist our children and families in the near future and beyond."

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “It’s apparent that, to help our kids grow, we need to invest in all aspects of their lives. Providing them additional resources and social workers to tackle mental health issues is not just a priority, but a growing need. We are excited to see the strides being taken to support our students and their families in times of need, and thank Congressman Higgins for his continued commitment to our city schools.”

This five-year grant will allow the Niagara Falls City School District to implement new school- and community-based mental health programs. The district will develop a recruitment and engagement plan to increase the number of school-based providers, especially providers of color. Working with the University at Buffalo and Niagara University, they will create mental health paid internships in psychology and social work annually for graduate students. Interns, alongside staff, will be trained to recognize the impact of trauma through ongoing professional development. The district will also connect with high school students at job fairs and college recruitment events. Additionally, to engage the community, the program will also include outside counseling for families, along with mentoring and tutoring opportunities for students.

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president, Niagara University said, “As partners in education, Niagara University is proud to work with Mark Laurrie and the Niagara Falls School District to help provide critical resources in the schools, but also to create career pathways for high school students who are interested in working in social work. Once again, it is also important to commend Congressman Brian Higgins for his work in securing this critical funding for our schools, which will improve the academic climate for students throughout the Niagara Falls school system today, and in the future.”

"We have had the tremendous opportunity to work with the administration, staff, students and parents of The Niagara Falls School District over the last three years," said Susan Green, co-director, the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Social Work. "We have witnessed a level of dedication and commitment to the well-being of all. Receipt of this grant will allow the district to continue to allocate the needed time, energy and resources for a stronger Niagara Falls community."

The School-Based Mental Health Services program provides competitive grants to State Educational Agencies (SEAs), Local Education Agencies (LEAs), and consortia of LEAs to increase the number of credentialed mental health service providers providing school-based mental health services to students. Projects under the program increase recruitment and retention incentives for school-based mental health services, promote the re-specialization and professional retraining of existing mental health service providers, and increase the diversity and cultural and linguistic competency of school-based mental health services providers.

A press release stated, “Thanks to funding from the fiscal year 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the U.S. Department of Education aims to address mental health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, community violence, and adverse childhood experiences. These disruptions in routines, relationships and the learning environment have led to increased stress, trauma, social isolation and anxiety. This past year, about $143.9 million was made available to support qualifying grantees across the country through the School-Based Mental Health Services program.”

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