ERN DC Testimony on School-Based Mental Health Protections


February 12, 2021

Testimony for the DBH FY20-21 Performance Oversight Hearing

February 12, 2021

Jessica Giles

Interim Director

Education Reform Now DC

Good afternoon, Chairperson Gray, staff, and members of the Committee on Health. My name is Jessica Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident and the Interim Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights to ensure our public education system in Washington, DC, justly and equitably serves all students. We are a member of the Strengthening Families Through Behavioral Health Coalition – a coalition committed to ensuring that DC children, youth, and families have access to a fully integrated behavioral health care system. I am testifying today to remind the Mayor and DC Council about the importance of fully funded behavioral health services.
How is the coronavirus pandemic impacting students’ and families’ mental health?

Our low-income communities and communities of color are experiencing concurrent crises in health, economic, and educational outcomes in Washington, DC. Latino and Black families are contracting COVID-19 and dying at a disproportionate rate. Gun violence and homicides remain high. The reduction in workforce opportunities creates housing instability and food insecurity. And many students are learning from home, which reduces quality time with their friends and educators, and adds stress to already burdened families. For these reasons and more, we remain deeply concerned about how our students of color and low-income families are coping and managing these adversities.

How is the DC Department of Behavioral Health addressing mental health?

Currently, 92% of the 171 schools participating in the school-based mental health (SBMH) expansion program are receiving services from a Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) clinician, clinical specialist, or community-based organization (CBO) clinician. CBO clinicians provide an array of services to students and schools, including grief trauma interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skill development, and whole school trauma training for teachers – to name a few. Additionally, community-based behavioral health service providers offer Medicaid-eligible and low-income populations, including undocumented immigrants, access to critical, life-sustaining behavioral health services.

What is still needed?

During the FY2021 budget process, nearly $9 million during a pandemic was cut for these services. Now more than ever, DC children, youth, and families need more, not less, access to timely, consistent, affordable behavioral health services. We urge the Mayor and the DC Council to protect school-based mental health expansion and our entire behavioral healthcare system. An investment of $6.4 million in the fiscal year 2022 budget is needed to fund the school-based mental health expansion to all remaining public schools (traditional and charters) and full investment in community-based behavioral health services to fiscal year 2020 levels. This investment will ensure 80 more public schools receive one CBO clinician for a total of $80,250 per school. Good behavioral health is fundamental for DC residents’ lives, especially now; full funding behavioral health services is critical for a just and equitable recovery. Thank you for allowing me to testify.