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Little empirical knowledge exists about the costs of providing mental health services in schools. (Kutash et al., 2006). Estimates suggest that the yearly cost of mental health services delivered in all settings to exceed $11.68 billion or $172 per child (Ringel & Sturm, 2001). It has become increasingly incumbent upon SMH programs to secure funding from multiple sources to sustain their service delivery. Funds for student support services largely come from public sources (i.e., federal, state, and local government) but also from insurance companies, managed care companies, charitable groups, and foundations (SMHP, 2000).

Funding sources often pose restrictions or regulations mandating how funds may or may not be used (Price & Lear, 2008).

  • Funding from state and county public mental health agencies are traditionally designed to pay for treatment services for diagnosable illnesses and not for mental health prevention or promotion activities.
  • Prevention and mental health promotion activities are more often supported through grant dollars and require ongoing advocacy and work to sustain.

Leadership for funding of children’s mental and behavioral health care needs in schools is unclear, with limited governmental leadership to drive a functional system to address children’s needs (Rastorfer, 2012). Lessons learned from school based mental health programs include:

  • Maximizing all possible sources of funding for services, including accessing public and private insurance and grants from public and private groups;
  • Enlisting those with power and influence to help establish connections and to increase discussions with funders about supporting school mental health services;
  • Developing the infrastructure to support billing capacity; and
  • Having knowledge of eligible services, clients, and eligible providers of insurance that covered the students (Behrens, Lear, & Price, 2012).

Addional Resources

  • School Mental Health Sustainability
    This document, School Mental Health Sustainability: Funding Strategies to Build Sustainable School Mental Health Programs by the Technical Assitance Partnership for Child and Family Mental Health, outlines mechanisms by which systems of care communities can develop sustainable school mental health programs.

  • Developing a Business Plan for Sustaining School Mental Health Services: Three Success Stories
    This report, developed by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University, examines the financial policies and processes that support the work of three school mental health programs across the country.

  • School Mental Health in the United States
    This report, developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, summarizes the first national survey of mental health services in a sample of 83,000 public elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States. Issues related to funding, budgeting, and resource allocation are addressed.

  • NASBHC Funding for School Based Health Centers Under the Affordable Care Act
    This document, prepared by the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (NASBHC), outlines key facts related the funding of SBHCs under the Affordable Care Act.