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State grant to provide students with mental health services

BEMIDJI -- Local students, and schools, are among those that will benefit from the state's $45 million investment into school-linked mental health services.

The grants were announced last week as the Minnesota Department of Health awarded 36 mental-health agencies with five-year contracts to provide such services to students within their schools.

"A lot of these kids don't have the schedules, or the means, to get to an outpatient clinic," said Wendy Thompson, executive director of the Bemidji Area Service Collaborative (BASC), which played an integral role in securing grants for the region. "Family schedules are busy and this provides these services at the school, right on the spot."

A similar grant has funded similar services since 2007 through the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center, but it did not extend into all the regional schools.

As this new grant opportunity arose, BASC worked with Upper Mississippi, North Homes Children and Family Services and Stellher Human Services two submit two grant proposals.

"It could have been competitive," Thompson said. "But it wasn't. Everyone cooperated and made sure that their grants were covering all of schools."

Both applications received funding. Stellher, together with Upper Mississippi, will receive $1.6 million and North Homes will receive $1.1 million.

"The grant allows us to put either a mental-health professional or practitioner, or both, into the schools we're assigned to," said Kim Anderson, branch office director of North Homes. "We're trying to get rid of barriers for kids to receive mental-health services."

Those funds will not only allow the existing services to continue, but will extend services into all the area's schools.

"Beltrami County, with our high poverty rate and transportation issues, it was really an applicant that did quite well in the pool, because our need was quite high," Thompson said.

Existing clients should see no change in providers or coverages. The agencies involved worked with each other, and the schools, to ensure the best fits for all involved.

The students -- the clients -- are always the first consideration for the professionals, as evidenced last fall when funding from the 2007 grant ran out in June. The BASC board voted to provide the gap funding to the agencies, so the students would not have to go without services until the new grants were obtained.

"We didn't want those kids to experience that gap just because the funding was not flowing at that time," Thompson said. "Educational success is important to us too and that can't come in that child is in crisis."

More on this program and the impact of the new grants will be provided during the next regular meeting of the Bemidji school board. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the media center at Bemidji High School.

"This offered an opportunity for us to bring (more) people to the table," Thompson said, speaking the collaboration from multiple agencies. "There is no lack of need in the community."