Nebraska has received a $9 million federal grant for pilot programs to help schools intervene before behavioral problems develop into mental illness.
Schools in three cities, Charon, Hastings, and South Sioux City, will each receive $1.8 million a year for five years.
Gov. Pete Ricketts says the money will allow the schools to intervene early.
“That’s so important, because if you look at our kids, oftentimes when mental illness strikes it starts on average at the age of 14,” Ricketts tells reporters during a Capitol news conference. “And so, a lot of times, it’s our schools who are the first to be involved with this and are helping our families deal with it.”
The Division of Behavioral Health, within the Department of Health and Human Services, will work with the Nebraska Department of Education to implement the grant and help all Nebraska schools better understand the resources available to combat mental illness.
State officials have developed a toolkit, Behavioral Health Resources for Schools, for school personnel unsure how to help students struggling with behavioral problems or mental illness.
State Behavioral Health Division Director Sheri Dawson says screenings and assessments are important.
“So, as the children are acting (out) or having behaviors in schools that we can identify, not every behavior has a diagnosis, and so really trying to look at assessing what’s happening with those young people,” Dawson says.
Dawson says her office has received multiple requests over the years from schools inquiring about school-based mental health resources. Dawson says the state is not only committed to helping schools, but also to helping families advocate for members suffering from mental illness or fighting behavioral problems.
The money comes from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]