Mental Health Effort Gets $7 Million Boost; St. Louis County Children Are Focus of Push to Reduce Bullying, Substance Abuse, More

Article excerpt

The St. Louis County Children's Fund hopes to award an additional $7 million in grants next year and will revamp some of its strategies after the release Wednesday of a $250,000 needs assessment.

The assessment found that bullying, substance abuse, and disruptive and disrespectful behavior still pervade St. Louis County public and private schools despite numerous school-based programs supported by the Fund. More than 10 percent of children surveyed said they had seriously contemplated suicide.

Additionally the study found that programs funded through the program aren't reaching enough youth in high poverty areas in north St. Louis County and that too many barriers prevent students from accessing school-based counseling services.

The report, introduced Wednesday in front of a crowd of about 150 representatives from area youth and mental health agencies, was based partially on surveys, focus groups and interviews of St. Louis County parents, students, teachers and youth agency workers. It was designed to monitor the success of Children's Service Fund programs.

The Children's Service Fund is supported by a one-quarter-of-a- cent retail sales tax approved by voters in 2008 to provide more mental health and prevention services for St. Louis County children 19 and under. This year the agency has pledged more than $47 million in core and supplemental funding to 54 agencies to provide those services to students.

There were several red flags that came up in the youth surveys cited in the assessment. Students said that they rarely found school- based counselors in their offices, that they had trouble getting hall passes to see them and that they were not effective.

"This was a constant when we asked our kids about these programs," said presenter Sharon Johnson of the UMSL School of Social Work and one of the six authors of the assessment.

Given the gaps in the report, the fund will redirect some of its grants and also ask the St. Louis County Council for approval to award additional funding next year, said the fund's Interim Executive Director Julie Leicht.

That includes $2 million in training to member agencies to build staff and better deal with issues such as child trauma and cultural differences, and another $5 million to help agencies develop new ideas for mental health programs for youth. …