Center for School Mental Health leaders pledge teamwork after surprise announcement

By: - July 13, 2021 5:39 pm

Leaders of the new Center for School Mental Health in Iowa are pledging collaboration with the children’s mental health system. (Photo by Element 5 Digital, via Unsplash)

Leaders of the new Center for School Mental Health met Tuesday with a state group responsible for the children’s mental health system and pledged collaboration on the $20 million project.

It was the first such public meeting since the project’s announcement in late June, which stakeholders said took them by surprise and was planned specifically to allow Gov. Kim Reynolds to break the news, according to an Iowa Department of Education official.

Daniel Clay, dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Education, and Department of Education official Amy Williamson gave a presentation on the new center to the Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board, the primary group overseeing the state’s children’s mental health system. Several stakeholders, including board members and associations of school mental health professionals, said before the meeting that they not heard about the project before Reynolds announced its creation in late June. 

“A lot of it has to do with making sure that Gov. Reynolds gets credit for such a great idea,” Williamson explained to board members. “We don’t tell the whole state before she gets the opportunity to do that, because we thought that was really important and actually really exciting.”

Williamson said after the meeting that the Department of Education had asked Reynolds to make the announcement before widespread collaboration with stakeholders began: “We are grateful to the governor’s office for their support in this work, and we thought that it was fitting that she be the first person to speak about it publicly.”

Williamson assured board members that the federally funded center was still in its early stages and would collaborate with existing children’s mental health groups in the state. She also announced plans to convene stakeholders for a summit on mental health. The “Iowa Best” conference will take place on Nov. 2 and 3 at the Iowa Event Center. 

“Our intent all along has been to have a unified system and to ensure that this board and the work of this board is fully integrated with the intent of the center,” Williamson said. 

How will the Center for School Mental Health work?

Clay took board members through the current vision for the center. It will be an expansion of University of Iowa’s existing work through the College of Education and the Baker Teacher Leader Center. 

The Center for School Mental Health will serve three primary purposes:

  • Professional development. The University of Iowa will create a curriculum to teach educators about how to foster good mental health in the classroom, and how to identify and intervene when a student needs help. These trainings would serve as a licensure renewal credit for teachers.
  • Research. The university will continue to research best practices for children’s mental health in schools. Clay said Tuesday that researchers will partner with school districts, other universities and the Department of Education to conduct the studies. This branch of the center will also address Iowa’s shortage of trained children’s mental health professionals.
  • Clinical outreach services. The Center for School Mental Health will be equipped to do mental health screenings and assessments for individuals and to provide short-term intervention in a crisis. The center will also help connect people across Iowa with long-term treatment options. 

Clay said that project leaders were speaking with other mental health groups to determine where Iowa has the greatest need and where partnerships can form. The intent is to avoid duplicating services, he said, and “be a central intellectual and clinical hub to provide services across the state.”

He emphasized that the ongoing development of the center would need an “all-hands-on-deck approach.” The project leaders will continue to work with the Children’s Board and other stakeholders.

“We feel like we have the capacity to have a state wide and system wide approach to mental health as ways that might serve as the model for the rest of the country,” Clay said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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