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How School and Community Partnerships Support the Mental Health Needs of All Students

Mental health is fundamental to the overall health of school communities. CASEL rates the correlation between mental health and academic outcomes as high, emphasizing the interrelatedness, interdependence, and intersectionality of the two. Therefore, it is imperative that partnering schools and community organizations make intentional efforts to meet the needs of students who require significant mental health support. The information in this module has been developed to provide flexible, evidence-based guidance for districts and schools to consider as they partner with community organizations to provide mental health supports to students. 

Context and Considerations

In a 2021 Reuters survey of U.S. Schools, 74% of responding districts reported multiple indicators of increased student mental health stressors, while more than 50% reported the need for increased mental health referrals and counseling. Many of those seeking mental health services need crisis response services to address suicidal ideation or attempts, self-harm, intent to harm others or other mental health concerns that require targeted, intensive support. Partnering with external agencies, local nonprofits and organizations that can offer mental health and behavioral crisis supports can increase the capacity of schools and districts to provide needed mental health supports for students (CASEL 2020).  

How can schools or districts leverage resources to provide the mental health supports my students need?

  1. Leveraging social and emotional learning (SEL), positive behavior supports and restorative discipline practices through a trauma-informed lens allows schools to effectively meet the needs of students with diverse mental health and wellbeing needs. 
  2. Utilizing mental health crisis teams can provide targeted and intensive mental health supports to students who require significant levels of support. These teams should include professionals, caregivers, community partners and stakeholders who understand robust approaches to mental health crisis management. 
  3. Implementing CASEL's roadmap to effective SEL. It contains effective practices and actions that schools and districts can adopt and apply into their existing plans or make the bedrock of a new plan currently being written.
  4. Allocating supplemental federal funding.  ESSER I, II and III funds can be braided with existing federal and state funds to pay for essential services and materials to support mental health for students. For more information on ESSER funding, please see the CDE Federal Programs Unit Technical Assistance and Resource webpage. Districts and schools can also contact the CDE Federal Programs Unit by clicking on the link. 

Some key considerations districts and schools should keep in mind in moving forward in their plans to support the social and emotional learning and mental health support of their students, which may include community partnerships:

■ Ensure students already identified as having significant mental health needs receive immediate support and regularly update existing school and student support plans.

■ Evaluate current internal capacity, systems, processes and policies that address mental health concerns.

■ Create formal partnerships with external agencies, local nonprofits, and organizations that can provide mental health and behavioral crisis supports to students and families.

■ Create a school-based crisis management team to address mental health crisis supports and resources.

■ Ensure students and staff have access to multiple reporting mechanisms to immediately access help in a crisis.

Designing for Equity

When planning for and providing mental health and crisis services, it is critical to account for students’ cultural and religious differences. Additionally, all policies, resources and communication should be sensitive to language and developmental differences. It is important to prioritize students who are historically underserved and have likely been disproportionately impacted by disruptions in learning. This includes students of color, students in poverty, students learning English and students with disabilities. Leverage transformative SEL practices to examine root causes of inequities and further support students of diverse populations. Additional resources, guidance, and trainings can be sought by contacting the following offices or units at CDE: 


■ Use mental health screening tools to determine the needs of students and consider hiring or contracting with school-based mental health professionals to meet increased demand.

■ Create a school-based crisis management team comprised of professionals, caregivers, community partners and stakeholders who understand robust approaches to mental health crisis management.

■ In partnerships with community organizations that provide wrap-around services for students, determine capacity to meet the mental health needs of students and analyze the policies and practices that contribute to or detract from a robust system of support.

■ Provide school-based crisis management teams with training on effective approaches to school safety, crisis prevention, mitigation and preparedness. It would also be beneficial to consider offering school-based telehealth services.

■ Ensure school and community mental health partners create or update current practices and policies related to mental health crisis management, specifically mandatory reporting and re-entry after a suicide threat. Behavioral and suicide risk assessment tools are valuable during distance or in-person learning.

■ Work with community partners to update and communicate reporting mechanisms that ensure students and families can quickly access help in a mental health crisis. Utilize more than one system and account for virtual access. Train staff and students on when and how to use these tools and follow up to ensure that users receive swift access to help.


Note: The contents of this page was created in collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Education, CASEL, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), Schott Foundation for Public Education, The National Center for Safe Supportive Learning Environments, and National Association of School Psychologists.

Next Module: How can schools implement systems that foster social emotional learning for students?