CHARLESTON – Senator Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, today met with school counselors from Ohio County, mental health professionals from Marshall University and West Virginia University, and representatives of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and Department of Education to discuss ways to provide access to the Expanded School Mental Health Initiative to schools statewide.
The program, which initially was launched as a two-year pilot program by DHHR, currently operates in 20 counties. The three-tier program addresses mental health issues with students through prevention and early intervention activities, as well as one-on-one counseling services. In Fiscal Year 2018, 40 schools received grants, which led to more than 93,000 prevention encounters (for suicide and substance abuse) and more than 9,700 early intervention encounters with at-risk students.
The program, which costs $900,000 per year, was set to end last year. After hearing from several counselors who are involved with the program, Senator Weld worked with Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, to continue the program’s funding for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.
“As I’ve met with educators throughout my district, one of the things I’ve heard most is how important mental health services for students are,” Senator Weld said. “The experienced counselors and professionals who participate in the ESMH program have seen the benefits of early prevention and intervention firsthand. There is so much to be gained by expanding this program to all of our counties.”
Since its inception, more than 20,000 students have benefited from the Expanded School Mental Health Initiative.
“There’s no question that our schools are seeing an unprecedented number of students who need counseling and other mental health services, and ensuring we provide funding for those needs is critical,” Senator Weld said. “This program may be our best option to get these prevention and intervention programs into as many areas of the state as possible. We have outstanding partners in Marshall, WVU, DHHR, and the Department of Education who want to see this program available to everybody, and the Senate is committed to funding it. I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm for this program and the goals that were set for its expansion during our meeting today.”