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Bold Step 1: Partner
A group of partners works around a tableTo help children and youth respond with confidence to life’s challenges and opportunities, we must help them to be mentally healthy and resilient. School is one of the places where this care can be delivered, promoting the mental wellness that improves students’ ability to learn.
Schools are at the intersection of many systems, from the local to the state level. With members from a many of these sectors, your partnership will be able to address the multifaceted mental health needs of children, youth, and their families—and take action to provide essential programs and services.
  • Improving student mental health will depend on collaboration among schools, community stakeholders, decision-makers and leaders, and state agencies. A team that brings together these partners will be able to introduce prevention programming in schools, and provide wraparound services for students with mental health needs.   Together, you will be able to access and allocate a wide range of resources to achieve these goals. The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool can help you learn what role each potential partner already plays in student mental health, and where connections might be made between them.
    As you draw up a list of prospective partners, consider what unique assets each one might bring. The “Think Broadly” activity and the “Who Cares As Much As You Do?” tool can help you find a balance between traditional allies and promising new ones. Once you have your list, the “Share Your Message” activity and the “How Do We Make Our Case?” tool can prepare you to reach out to each partner with a clear and compelling invitation. No matter where they come from, it is important that partners care as deeply as you do about student mental health and share fully in ownership and responsibility for the plans the partnership creates. 
    Here is a list of potential partners—use your own contacts and knowledge of your community to guide your choices.
    • School administrators can provide leadership for student mental health, especially when they understand that this approach can promote supportive school environments that bolster learning.
    • School personnel—teachers, health educators, nurses, counselors, and prevention coordinators—have valuable expertise and a strong investment in student mental health.
    • Community agencies can provide expertise in prevention approaches, access to related services (e.g., alcohol and other drug treatment; anger management; grief and trauma counseling), and training for school staff in identifying students with mental health needs.
    • Agencies and organizations can help link students to providers who accept insurance, or help uninsured students find community resources that can provide financial assistance. 
    • Local universities have professional expertise and may have graduate students who can provide mental health services as interns.
    • Parents’ and guardians’ input about their children's needs is important, and you may find valuable family partners through a PTO/PTA or through the family liaisons in schools. 
  • Once the partners are at the table, you will need to agree on your shared vision. There may be different, culturally defined attitudes about mental health in the group, and different ideas about the needs of children and youth. Make the effort to find the essential goals you share, and to agree on some common terms you can use to talk about them. The “Connect the Dots” activity can help you bring partners’ ideas together into a unified plan. The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool is useful in helping partners learn how their areas of focus relate to each other. 
    How well does each partner understand the other organizations represented? What specific resources can each partnering agency commit? Are there obstacles that can be avoided by creating formal agreements among your organizations? Addressing these questions at the beginning of your partnership will lay the groundwork for understanding as your planning gets underway, reducing the distraction of “turf issues” and miscommunication. With the “How Do We Create an Agreement?” tool, you’ll be able to make the answers you find together into a strong foundation for your future teamwork.
    For a group addressing student mental health, it is especially helpful to work out an information-sharing agreement early on. This will facilitate collaboration on students who are involved in multiple systems (e.g., juvenile justice, mental health services, and child welfare). Different agencies must understand information-sharing policies and procedures so schools can better serve students’ needs. You’ll need to find ways to share this information without infringing on student and family confidentiality and privacy. Some programs have done this through the inclusion of parent involvement, and by using “Informed Consent Waivers.” 
Bold Step 2: Plan

A group discusses a planBefore school mental health systems can be successfully implemented or improved, you’ll need an accurate picture of the programs already in place, what their strengths are and where more help is needed. With this information, your partnership will be able to name the outcomes you want to achieve and line up the necessary resources and supports. Your plan should also include strategies for handling unanticipated challenges.

  • Determining student mental health needs—and the school and community resources that exist to address them—is a critical first step in building a stronger school mental health system. “What’s Really Happening” is an activity to give you an overview. The “How Do We Know What’s Happening?” tool offers checklists and charts for tracking what you learn. With the “What is Being Done to Address This Issue?” tool, you’ll actually map the services available in your community, noting which programs target individuals, groups, or whole school populations.
    Once you know where the gaps are, you can design a plan to fill them, by providing needed services, creating new systems, training personnel, or streamlining delivery. As you conduct your assessment, you may also discover new partners for school mental health staff. And finally, assessing community needs and strengths will help you determine how better to serve specific populations (e.g., immigrant families or Spanish-speaking students).
    Another high priority at this stage is to understand the funding landscape, so that you can secure funding for the programs you want to support. There are many sources of local, state, and federal support for mental health services. The ability to navigate these is critical to meeting students’ needs. The reimbursement procedures for Medicaid, private insurance, and third-party billing sources must also be understood. For example, while treatment services for students with mental health diagnoses may be covered by Medicaid or private insurance, prevention and early intervention are likely to require funding from beyond these sources. 


  • Now that you know where the needs are, you can identify outcomes to address them. The “Create Your Plan” activity introduces the key elements of a strong plan, and the “How Do We Create a Roadmap?” tool offers clear, logical steps to follow on the way to your goals. A comprehensive approach to student mental health should include programming to promote mental health generally and improve school climate; practices that identify students with mental, emotional, and behavioral health needs; and systems to provide mental health services to individual students who need them. 
    For each identified need, choose an intervention with a proven track record of success in comparable situations. Consider how each intervention might work in your own school or community context, and discuss how to integrate it with existing programs. Develop an action plan that outlines steps—including target deadlines—for achieving your goals. 
  • There are many preparations your partnership can make before putting your plan into action, to position it for long-lasting success:
    • Make sure your plan states clearly who the provider is for each service. 
    • Outline referral processes, specifying which services will be addressed in school, and which in community mental health agencies.
    • Ask all partners to share information that might affect the timing for implementing your plans.
    • Look for opportunities to eliminate duplication and streamline services to students and families.
    • Lay out a detailed plan for data collection, storage, analysis, and reporting.
    • Develop a budget that includes expenses for staff, materials, training, and services. Determine how services will be funded and how additional funding will be secured.
    • Plan for staff training, monitoring, and supervision.
    • Build in an evaluation strategy so that at every stage you will collect the information you need to make important programming decisions.
    The “Create Infrastructure” activity introduces the “TEAM CPR” framework for successful implementation. The “How Do We Build for Success?” tool adds checklists and tips especially for establishing evidence-based programs.
Bold Step 3: Act

Three children work together during classWith your partnership launched and your plans laid out, it’s time to get started. The relationships you have forged within the partnership will serve as a model for helping staff in schools, statewide agencies, and community organizations work together to strengthen student mental health services. Implementation should include good communication, and careful gathering of data so that you can promote effective programs.

  • As the partners move ahead to implement planned action steps, collaboration will be a big part of what makes it all work. For instance, community mental health providers may work with school counselors to set up a referral process for students with mental health issues. Staff across partnering agencies can be trained together in schoolwide prevention programming so that they are all speaking the same language with students.  Implementation also entails monitoring. Knowing the numbers and types of referrals being made, for instance, can help you identify where students’ needs are and aren’t being met. You’ll be able to focus your efforts on successful activities, and either tweak or eliminate those that aren’t showing the results you anticipated.


  • To extend your improvements into the future, think about what it will take for each successful program or service to be carried on by others once your partnership is no longer involved. The “Create a Legacy” activity and the “How Can We Sustain Our Efforts?” tool can help with this key aspect of making change. Establishing policies and procedures for referral protocols, training staff, and changing school culture are all ways to help sustain a positive approach to student mental health.
    At each stage, you may see ways to develop long-term staff capacity and create institutional change, including strong leadership. Continue to refine your efforts, focusing on the most successful elements. Data that demonstrate the effectiveness of your programs can be used to generate funding to help keep those programs up and running.
    As your initiatives and improvements take effect, don’t forget to celebrate—and spread the word! The “How Do We Use Data to Communicate?” tool will help you tell key constituents and potential supporters about the change you’ve shown is possible.