County mental-health program focuses on middle schools – Hudson Valley One

County mental-health commissioner Tara McDonald.

The mental-health needs of school-aged children and adolescents have been increasing for the past decade. Kids have been experiencing stressors at home, at school, and in the community. Although advancements in technology have helped improve the lives of all of us, it’s no surprise that certain aspects of these changes have had adverse effects for many. The pandemic only exacerbated a problem. In 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on protecting youth mental health — highlighting the crisis across the country. 

Ulster County has seen trends that track like the rest of the country. On June 21 of this year, the county legislature unanimously passed a resolution to allocate a portion of its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and opioid settlement funds to support more mental-health resources in schools.  

“There has been a significant uptick in the number of students and families who need mental-health, social and emotional support,” said Charles Khoury, district superintendent for Ulster Boces. 

The needs were unclear

County mental-health commissioner Tara McDonald expresses a similar sentiment. “In our county, we could use more clinical opportunities for kids. Our clinics tend to be full with wait lists. So that’s challenging. But if we can support kids in other ways and more around the social determinants of health, then maybe they won’t need that clinic appointment to talk about the social determinants of health.”

Knowing that ARPA funding would come to both schools and the county, McDonald and her team started discussions with Ulster Boces and personnel from the nine school districts in the county. Their aim was to support students as they began to re-enter classrooms following virtual learning. 

“We started conversations with school districts and leaders during the tail end of the isolation period of Covid in the 2020-2021 school year …. We wanted to really provide support to the districts as the kids would be coming back to school,” said McDonald. 

The needs were unclear. “I’ll never forget that the schools were sort of like ‘We don’t know what we’ll need. We haven’t seen the kids face-to-face for well over a year, and we just don’t know what that will look like.’ So our conversations started with ‘What were students struggling with before the pandemic?’ ” McDonald said. 

Those discussions led to the …….


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