‘There is a need:’ State task force drafting bill to provide more mental health support in K-12 schools

    A legislative task force is working on a bill draft that would help provide more mental health services for K-12 students in the state.

    The Wyoming Legislature’s Mental Health and Vulnerable Adult Task Force heard a report from Wyoming Project Aware director Dustin Brown during a meeting this month that showed almost 18 percent of Wyoming youth have experienced a major depressive episode over the past year – compared to about 15 percent nationwide.

    “Wyoming has the highest prevalence rate of youth-based major depressive episodes in the U.S.,” Brown said, citing the 2022 State of Mental Health in America Report from the nonprofit group Mental Health America.


    Project Aware has been working to integrate mental health services into the state’s K-12 system for the past three years, Brown said, beginning in three school districts – including Fremont County School District 1 in Lander – and later expanding to include three more.

    “We’re finding that the model is highly successful,” Wyoming Department of Education innovation officer Laurel Ballard said during a task force meeting in July. “The results are phenomenal.”

    This month, Brown shared the results of student surveys that showed “positive results on functioning across our students within the program.”

    h/t Wyoming Legislature

    “Here’s where our data potentially gets exciting,” he said. “Everything indicates that our modeling is moving in a positive direction.”


    Now, Brown said, the WDE is “trying to find the right way to keep this work going” after the Project Aware grant funding runs out.

    He discussed two potential options with the task force:
    -hire more mental health professionals within the schools, or
    -develop partnerships with community mental health providers to offer services to students.

    So far, Brown said, Project Aware has “really built out the advantages of partnerships” – but there is a timing “gap” that still needs to be addressed, because it currently takes about 31 days to get an appointment with a community mental health provider.


    In the meantime, Ballard said, “the school tends to be the one that … supports those students, (in) conjunction with the families.”

    Schools don’t have enough counselors, nurses and psychologists to meet that need, however, Wyoming Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said, reading a memo from the task force’s K-12 working group.

    “There is a need for more resources,” he said.


    The working group recommended the state conduct a study examining the current availability of mental health resources within the K-12 system, he said.

    While that work takes place, the working group said Wyoming should also fund an increase in the number of school counselors and nurses available in schools in order to reach the level of service recommended by consultants in 2020, Baldwin said.

    The task force asked state staffers to draft a bill that would fund those positions while the proposed study is completed.

    They also asked Ballard to provide an estimate showing what it would cost to expand the Project Aware program to all 48 school districts in the state.

    The next task force meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 28-29 in Cheyenne.


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