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A $12 million grant program to create and expand school-based behavioral health wellness centers in Santa Clara County was approved Aug. 29 by the county Board of Supervisors. 

Most of the grant money will be awarded to school districts to help establish new campus wellness centers composed of a small team that will include a credentialed behavioral health professional such as a therapist, counselor or clinical social worker. Some funding will also be available to expand existing wellness centers and invest in facility and technology improvements. 

The county had more than 30 school districts serving over 240,000 students as of the 2021-2022 school year, according to the county’s Office of Education. 

The expansion of school-based behavioral health wellness centers was first proposed by Supervisor Susan Ellenberg in 2019. A county report on recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2022 suggested implementing the plan with grant money available from both the state and the federal government. 

The program will be bolstered by $2 million from the county probation department that is earmarked for juvenile justice initiatives. The other $10 million is funded from the American Rescue Plan Act and the state’s Mental Health Services Act, which was passed as Proposition 63 by California voters in 2004 and levies a 1% income tax on residents making more than $1 million annually. 

Ellenberg said it had been a goal of hers since joining the Board of Supervisors in 2019 to identify ways the county could better intervene and treat behavioral and mental health in teenagers, before the Covid-19 pandemic brought that same issue to the attention at many levels of government. 

She said that mental health struggles were not new for teenagers, but that the pandemic magnified and expanded the need for solutions. She said young people began talking about mental health issues more freely during the pandemic. 

“It went a long way towards reducing stigma around mental health,” Ellenberg said. “Students became more open during that time.”

The grant program is being implemented by the nonprofit community health care provider Valley Health Foundation, formerly known as Valley Medical Center Foundation. The program is funded through the 2026-2027 school year. Applications will open in September and the centers would be operational the following school year. 

Continuing funding is expected to partially come from Medi-Cal and commercial insurance payments required under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health, which will require more insurance coverage of mental health services. 

About two-thirds of California youths who experience depression do not receive treatment, according to the governor’s office. 

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