City Slightly Expands Mental Health Services for Children

“Wellness coaches” will staff nine schools in the district.

Mayor London Breed. Photo by Kevin N. Hume

School kids in San Francisco will have slightly greater access to mental health services in the coming year now that the city has allocated an additional $3.5 million toward that end.

The money will flow into the San Francisco Unified School District’s Wellness Initiative and aid a number of specific schools. Over half the money, $2 million, will go toward hiring “wellness coaches” at nine schools in historically marginalized communities. The other $1.5 million will expand mental health services at 21 middle schools.

The wellness coaches will “provide a combination of counseling, case management, and restorative practice to resolve conflict and reduce harm,” according to a press release from Mayor Breed’s office.

Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 with an average delay between symptoms and intervention of 8-10 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which also estimates that 20 percent of children aged 13-18 live with a mental health condition.

“Middle school and high school can be a difficult time for a lot of students, and this funding will support programs that help students navigate and deal with the challenges they face in a health and safe way,” Mayor Breed said in a press release.

When mental illness strikes children, disorders often come together. Nearly 74 percent of children aged 3-17 diagnosed with depression also have anxiety issues, and almost half also have behavior problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of 2017, over 25,000 students were enrolled in 6-12th grade in SFUSD. Each of the nine schools getting a wellness coach currently have a social worker and a nurse.

The increase in funding aimed at mental health services isn’t the only nod toward schools the mayor has made this summer. In August, Breed followed through on a June proposal of a $10 million stipend program designed to help hard-to-staff schools stay staffed.

Mental health has been a major topic of discussion in recent years. In July, Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen shelved a relevant ballot measure until at least March. Their ballot measure would, in theory, create universal mental health care in San Francisco.

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