Iowa establishes new mental health center for students across state

Iowa schools will begin receiving mental health services and support this summer and the 2021-2022 school year through a new partnership, officials announced June 23.

The Iowa Center for School Mental Health, a partnership of the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa College of Education’s Baker Teacher Leader Center, will expand resources and training for the state’s pre-K through 12th grade educators and schools, according to the June 23 news release. Those services include crisis response, face-to-face and online training and coaching for teachers, strategic planning support, needs assessment and program evaluation of social-emotional learning, and positive behavioral interventions and supports implementation. The center will also research the effective delivery of services to students.

The Iowa Department of Education designated $20 million in federal relief to the Center through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER ll) Fund of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRSSA) Act.

NAMI Iowa Executive Director Peggy Huppert, who serves on the Iowa Children’s Behavioral Health Board, praised the center’s establishment in an emailed statement to The Center Square.

“[I] know full well the critical need for more programs and services in our state for kids, especially crisis services,” Huppert said. “My hope is this new center will provide practical advice to not just classroom teachers, but all adults who have contact with our children through the K-12 school system. Parents, especially foster and adoptive parents, also need help and support. The schools are a trusted source and terrific way to provide that help and support.”

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said in the news release that education partners, policymakers and mental health professionals will together “address the impact pandemic-related disruptions have had on students and will focus on strengthening mental health support moving forward.”

The center will be housed in the University of Iowa College of Education with initial partners including experts from the university’s Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, and College of Public Health, according to a post on the university’s website.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a tax reduction package and mental health funding realignment bill, Senate File 619, on June 16. The bill changes regional property tax funding into statewide support over the next two years.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, told The Center Square the result will reduce funding for the 14 mental health regions and that a system long in place will not work well at the state level.

“It’s better when you give it to the people closest to the situation,” she said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has asked Iowans to suggest priorities for public health through the Healthy Iowans 2022-2026: A State Health Assessment of Iowa online survey, The survey closes June 30.

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