A few weeks ago, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the state’s School Safety Bill into law. Part of the new law sets aside $69 million to provide mental health resources in schools. Now a special team is already marshaling those resources for the schools in Leon and seven surrounding counties.
Jay Reeve is the CEO for the Apalachee Center, a community-based mental health services provider in Florida’s Big Bend area. But his organization is also part of a 20-agency mental health consortium in the region. He said he and two of those partners, Mike Watkins from Big Bend Community Based Care and Disc Village’s John Wilson decided not to wait for direction from the state on how to turn the law into reality.
“We’ve been talking to the school superintendents across the region about what we can do to maximize those resources so that rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and create another system within the schools, we can use the system that we currently have in existence at Apalachee Center and at Disc Village to provide those services within the schools.”
Reeve said that would greatly expand the capabilities of the existing counselors within the schools who have found themselves doing more academic paperwork than counseling in recent years.
“It hasn’t left much room for the direction that the Legislature wants to go and frankly the direction I think the state needs to go, which is to have immediately available mental health resources dedicated to the mental health and mental wellness of our kids right there in the schools.”
That’s sort of like having mental health school resource officers, explained Reeve.
“So what we would love to see would be contracts with schools across the region where we’re able to put several therapists or counselors with case managers, certainly at each school district, and ideally in as many individual schools as we can who would work with the team within the school.”
Reeve said these are all resources that the Apalachee Center and other partners are already set up to provide.
“It’s a way of working in a system that already has child psychiatry, case managers, therapists and there’s also some ways to braid the funding so we can wind up with significantly more bang for the buck.”
The provisions of the new law could even expand what’s available to the schools.
“It calls for the development of mobile crisis teams, which my friends in law enforcement were thrilled to hear about because we’ve been trying to figure out ways to fund something like that in this region for years and now it looks like the funding is going to come down.”
Reeve and his partners don’t have a final price tag for all this, but he’s confident the plan in full or in part is totally doable. And once the plan is in place and signed off on by the region’s school superintendents, he insisted it can happen fast.
“That’s one of the things that is helpful about partnership between community mental health and the schools. We’re very used to setting up systems and treatment delivery systems. We know how the hiring works, we have the credentialing processes in place, we’ve got all the structure and supervision. So if we’ve got the resources, than we advertise, we find the people and we put it on line.”
All of this is aimed at reducing the chances, Reeve said, of hearing things like, “We suspected little Johnny was going through some tough times, but we didn’t know who to turn to. We never dreamed he’d do something like THIS!”