Wu Announces $21 Million for Behavioral Health Services, Programming

Mayor Michelle Wu, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and Boston Public Schools (BPS) today announced $21 million in transformative funding for mental and behavioral health programs and services to support the City’s youth and families. The investments are part of the City’s response to the urgent need for more mental health supports for young people and to develop a larger and more diverse behavioral health workforce. These investments over five years will serve more than 50,000 students, directly impact 21 BPS schools, support more than 600 people in pursuing behavioral health careers in Boston, grow and diversify BPS’s mental health staff, and provide more than 1,000 people with behavioral health training to better serve youth and families in Boston. 

“The past several years have been difficult for all of us, and that’s especially true for our young people,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “That’s why it is so important for us to make life saving investments now, to support Boston families and make sure our youth get the high-quality care they need.”

According to BPHC’s newly released Health of Boston Mental Health Report, there has been a significant increase of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety among Boston’s youth, especially youth of color. Currently, more than 40% of BPS students report feeling persistent sadness and hopelessness, while in 2015, 27% of youth reported feeling this way. An increasing number of our high school students are reporting suicidal thoughts. These data are even more severe for students that are marginalized or identify as female or LGBTQ+. Unfortunately, less than half of BPS high school students report that they received help when they experienced mental health challenges.

“Our young people are in crisis, and it is clear that we need to develop more mental health services, especially those that address the unique needs of Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ+ and other underserved communities,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We created BPHC’s Center for Behavioral Health and Wellness to find meaningful and strategic ways to reduce behavioral health inequities. This partnership between Mayor Wu, BPS, and the Center demonstrates our commitment to providing culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate services to young people and their families in Boston.” 

“I am hopeful and eager to uplift our youth and families by addressing the urgent mental and behavioral health challenges they face,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper. “These investments and partnerships with educational and youth-focused institutions are vital steps toward strengthening our systems of care, and in doing so, nurturing the emotional well-being and educational development of our students.”

The $21 million is from federal funding and grants, including the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the U.S. Department of Education, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This funding will add behavioral health specialists to BPS schools, provide behavioral health training to youth-facing workers and community organizations, and invest in career training in communities of color to develop a more diverse workforce to serve youth in Boston. This will increase the number of diverse, highly qualified mental health staff that work in BPS while also developing the skills of the current mental health staff, creating a better pipeline to retain providers and fill vacancies. In addition, a pilot program between BPHC and BPS will examine policies in BPS to examine trauma, disciplinary issues, racism, stress, and other factors to create safer and more positive environments for students. 

“Through this collaboration between Mayor Wu, BPHC, BPS, and our communities, we are investing in a future where every child has access to the care and support they need to flourish,” said Dr. Kevin M. Simon, Chief Behavioral Health Officer of the Boston Public Health Commission. “This commitment is a testament to the power of collective action in supporting the well-being of our children and families.”

“Consistent with UMass Boston’s anti-racist, health-promoting ethos, our grant will prepare cohorts of culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse Fellows to become human service and mental health providers,” said UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. “We share the Mayor and Commission and BPS’s goals to advance racial justice, health equity, and more accessible behavioral health services so we can address the growing need for mental health resources among minoritized and marginalized youth.” 

“As one of the largest providers of pediatric behavioral health services in Boston, we have seen the need for behavioral health services grow exponentially, especially in underserved communities,” said Joseph Mitchell, MD, President of Franciscan Children’s. “We are thrilled to receive this grant so we can continue to meet the rising needs of children and youth in Boston through our school-based and other mental health programs, train the next generation of behavioral health professionals, and create a more diverse workforce that is representative of the communities we serve.”

In addition to these programs and services that serve youth, a BPHC program will support families with Black and Latinx children under four years old in need of early childhood mental health and care.

The full breakdown of investments is detailed below:

Boston Public Health Commission

• $2.5M (ARPA) – Grant to UMass Boston for “Transforming Boston Access to Mental Health” focuses on preparing diverse, youth-facing practitioners to serve Boston communities. Fellows will receive education, training, and fieldwork and commit to practicing in Boston. Across three years, 185 students will be trained to serve 1,750 clients, with over 850 being youth. To date, 39 students are enrolled and 34 youth and 44 non-youth have been served.  

• $2.5M (ARPA) – Grant to Franciscan Children’s to expand the “Children’s Wellness Initiative,” which provides mental health clinicians and psychiatry services in BPS schools. The grant will enable Franciscan to expand to an additional 10 BPS sites for a total of 22 BPS sites over three years. The grant will also grow recruitment efforts and provide at least 180 people advanced training in behavioral health. To date, nine clinicians have been placed across nine schools, serving 200 BPS students. 

• The additional schools are: Blackstone Elementary School; Jeremiah E. Burke High School; Joseph Lee K-8 School; Rafael Hernandez School; Dr. William W. Henderson K-12 Inclusion School; Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School; and another four schools are to be announced. 

• $2.3M (ARPA) – BPHC and BPS will pilot a “Trauma-informed School System Transformation” at 10 BPS schools, reaching up to 3,500 students and 750 staff. Starting in April 2024, Flourish Agenda will use trauma-informed methodologies to examine and improve BPS policies and systems of care.

• The 10 BPS schools are: BCLA-McCormack 7-12 Pilot School; Ellis Elementary School; Excel High School; Joseph Lee K-8 School; Madison Park Technical Vocational High School; Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School; Richard J. Murphy K-8; TechBoston Academy; Dr. William W. Henderson K-12 Inclusion School; Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot School 

• $1.3M (ARPA) – Funds will go towards BIPOC youth-focused, public awareness campaigns and other resources, including BPHC’s Cope Code Club and creative arts projects with The Family Van.  

• $1M (ARPA) – BPHC just released a RFP for vendors to provide behavioral health training for community-based organizations that serve youth of color in Boston.

• $1M (ARPA) – BPHC’s Boston Area Health Education Center helps train youth in careers in health education, particularly from BIPOC populations underrepresented in health. This funding will go towards after school and summer programs focused on behavioral health careers and will train 400 students over three years. To date, 25 students are enrolled in an afterschool program.

• $700K (ARPA) – BPHC’s “Capacity Building and Training Initiative” will provide trauma and equity training for City employees who serve youth and families. Training will reach about 600 staff over three years. 

• $4M (SAMHSA) – BPHC’s “Boston Children’s Mental Health Initiative” will work with Children’s Services of Roxbury to support Black and Latinx children under four years old who are connected to the state child welfare system or BPHC family support services and in need of early social and emotional development. Over the next four years, this includes training at least 37 family partners, nurses, social workers and case workers; providing services for 275 children; screening 1,800 families for social and emotional wellness; providing more behavioral health services; and increasing awareness of early childhood mental health. 

Boston Public Schools

• $5.8M (Dept. of Education) – BPS, in partnership with UMass Boston, Boston University, Brown University, and community partners will launch “Project PROVIDE,” which prepares 200 school psychology, school counseling, and social work students to serve Boston youth over five years, serving more than 46,000 students. The goal is to increase the number of diverse, highly qualified mental health staff that work in BPS while also improving technical and supervisory skills of the current mental health workforce that works in BPS or with BPS students. This grant will enable BPS to more effectively convert trainees into employees in order to fill vacancies and support the retention of mental health providers.

For more information about behavioral health resources or other needs, call the BPS Helpline at 617-635-8873 or visit BPHC’s website.

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