In 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was awarded a Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Pennsylvania’s initiative intended to respond to the realization among top state officials in Education, Behavioral Health, and Juvenile Justice, along with youth and families, of the need to join forces to address the most difficult challenges for schools and communities.
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Pennsylvania is integrating five previously discrete SAMHSA-sponsored initiatives to create a comprehensive system of care for families, children, and youth with behavioral health needs from birth to adulthood.
Pennsylvania has administered a statewide Student Assistance Program (SAP) across all the Commonwealth’s 500 school districts since 1985. SAP aims to develop and maintain mental health wellness and a safe and drug-free environment in schools and communities. It is designed to assist school personnel to identify misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, as well as mental health concerns that may pose a barrier to a student’s success. Additionally, SAP responds to such issues and concerns through collaborative prevention, intervention, and post-intervention services.
Pennsylvania’s SS/HS initiative has developed a protocol to guide community-level teams in identifying and selecting well-founded programs and practices to address salient student and school needs that fit the local circumstances and context. The protocol is designed to be used by an inclusive team involving educators, student and family representatives, as well as system partners.
Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) implementation within Pennsylvania’s overarching system of care partnership is creating numerous new opportunities for schools at the center of their communities. This strategy is generating great benefits for comprehensive approaches to address the consequential role of trauma in the lives of local students and their families in several school districts throughout Crawford and Lehigh counties.
School professionals and students across all seventeen school districts in York County, Pennsylvania formed an active student-led Youth Mental Health Alliance (Alliance) that serves as a catalyst “to end the stigma of mental illness, and to ensure that mental-health resources are available to everyone who needs them”—especially the county's youth.