Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health state of emergency in May of 2021, citing skyrocketing demand for mental health services among Colorado’s youth. In addition to the well-documented impact of the pandemic on mental health, our community also experienced a mass shooting and Colorado’s most destructive wildfire in 2021. In the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), referrals of students to Mental Health Advocates have risen by 86% this school year compared to the same period during the 2020-21 school year.
What are mental health advocates?
Within BVSD, Mental Health Advocates provide prevention and intervention services for students, supporting their social-emotional and behavioral development, student achievement, and crisis intervention.
Mental Health Advocates can also provide both group and individual counseling support and work directly with students, parents, and staff members. For more acute counseling needs, they help families access external resources for mental health. As a direct result of the Marshall Fire and the mental health impacts this is having on our community, we are working to immediately increase the mental health services available to BVSD students.
Raising funds to expand BVSD’s team of mental health advocates
Impact on Education is actively seeking funding to facilitate hiring four additional Mental Health Advocates to be deployed in BVSD’s most impacted schools. The additional staff would be assigned to the 7 schools most directly impacted by the Marshall Fire, serving 6,061 students, 687 of whom lost their homes or remain displaced. With more than one in every ten students losing their homes and nearly all students at these schools impacted by the evacuation orders and trauma of temporary displacement, these are the schools with our most pressing mental health needs right now.
“We are seeing a significant increase when it comes to the social-emotional support our students need at this critical moment, those impacted by the fire are working to process everything that happened. It was a deeply traumatic experience and it will take some time for these students to cope with the tremendous amount of loss and PTSD that everyone impacted by the fires are struggling through.”Tammy Lawrence, Student Support Services Director
The additional support will ensure all of the impacted schools have the intensive layer of mental health support needed, and expand BVSDs capacity to respond to mental health referrals. The intensity of mental health concerns and the time required to provide support and intervention varies dramatically from case to case, but BVSD’s leadership is confident that adding these clinicians to the School District team is the most critical immediate step.
Nearly half of the necessary funding was secured from a donation from the Community Foundation’s Boulder County Wildfire Fund and we are actively working with other funding partners to secure the balance of the required funding.
The importance of mental health support right now
Increasing mental health support to the students most affected by the Marshall Fire will benefit approximately 6,061 students in 7 of the 32 schools home to students impacted by the fire. BVSD’s Mental Health Advocates collaborate and make appropriate referrals to partners including Mental Health Partners and Jewish Family Services.
Mental Health Advocates supplement what BVSD’s school counselors can provide since their focus is exclusively on mental and behavioral health. They work directly with the administration in each school building to determine the needs, and then collaborate on what curriculum to use to meet individual students’ needs. This includes working in collaboration with school counselors to ensure there is a direct impact for each student, and extends into providing services to the teachers and staff who always play a key role in supporting the social-emotional health of the students.
District seeking additional mental health grants
Beyond their funding request to Impact on Education, BVSD is requesting two emergency grants, one state and one federal, to provide additional mental health staffing and support to schools most impacted by the Marshall Fire.
“We are tremendously grateful for the support of Impact on Education and our entire community, as we work to provide support for those impacted. This is not a situation that will be resolved in days or weeks. We must be ready to help our fellow neighbors for the many months and years it will take to not only rebuild, to once again feel safe and to return to normalcy.”Dr. Rob Anderson, BVSD Superintendent
Read more about BVSD’s plans to hire school counselors, nurses, and outreach positions in this story from the Daily Camera.
YOU CAN HELP …
Impact on Education is a nonprofit organization, and we depend on our community to help us put our mission into action. We are still actively raising funds to support the mental health needs of Boulder Valley students and staff. You can help by making a gift to support this work. On the donation form, where it says “My donation is for” please select “Critical Needs Fund – Marshall Fire.”