Expanding mental health services in King County middle schools

From coping with stress and social pressure to the appearance of mental health needs, many middle schoolers benefit from mental health support as they find their way through adolescence.

We’re thrilled to announce that beginning this fall, middle school students in over 40 King County schools will have more access to mental health screening and services at their school. Best Starts for Kids and the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency levy will combine funds to invest $12.6 million over three years to expand Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Services (SBIRT), a school-based tool to promote mental health and prevent substance use for middle school students. The program will reach as many as 35,000 students each school year.

To learn more about brain development in middle school and the importance of early mental health screening and support, we sat down with a Maggie Milligan, a Prevention Intervention Specialist at the Center for Human Services, and Dr. Meg Cary, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Department of Community and Human Services. Check out this video to hear from these experts and learn more about SBIRT.


Focusing on strengths

Unlike many behavioral health screening tools, the SBIRT screening tool weaves in questions that help students think about their strengths. Alongside questions about mental health and substance use, counselors ask questions like, “Who is someone you can turn to for support?” and “What makes you proud of yourself?” These questions help students identify their strengths to cope with stress and achieve their goals.

The strengths-based screening tool was developed through a three year pilot project in several King County middle schools. In partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Reclaiming Futures, King County adapted the SBIRT model for middle school students. Best Starts for Kids will bring this effective program to scale, and apply lessons learned through pilot to better suit middle school students, further emphasize strengths, and include questions related to experiences of trauma or adversity.

A whole-child approach

Providing mental health screening and referral through SBIRT is part of a comprehensive strategy to support students’ physical, social, and emotional well-being at school. Best Starts for Kids’ partnerships with schools embrace a whole-child approach, reaching young people where they are with in-school physical and mental health services, while working with schools and their partners to create environments that are safe, supportive, respectful and engaging for all young people, families and school staff.

SBIRT is part of a comprehensive strategy to support students’ physical, social, and emotional well-being at school.

These investments include building and expanding school-based health centers to provide medical and mental health services, supporting trauma-informed and restorative practices in schools, and partnering with communities to expand after school and summer learning opportunities. Together, these investments provide a platform for students to not only achieve academically, but grow into happy, healthy, thriving young people.

Awarded School Districts

12 school districts received funding to implement SBIRT. Final award amounts and schools served will be finalized pending contracts with districts.

School District
Lake Washington
Snoqualmie Valley

Photo credit: Feature photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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