OCDE is supporting local mental health needs through distance learning and beyond

When schools closed to students in mid-March, OCDE’s educational and technology teams quickly positioned themselves as a resource, partnering with districts as they assessed their own needs and digital capacities.

Along with developing a website to help educators, counselors and families maintain instructional continuity, OCDE distributed nearly 1,800 hotspots to help local districts expand connectivity, and the department worked with the state to deliver about 500 laptops.

Students works on her laptop

But that’s just part of the story. Recognizing the toll that a public health crisis, social isolation and economic anxieties can take on communities, OCDE has also been working to support the mental health needs of students and families through distance learning and beyond. Here are a few examples.

No-cost trainings

OCDE is providing several no-cost trainings for educators, covering trauma-informed practices, support for social-emotional learning in the classroom, restorative practices, and suicide risk assessment. The department also runs networks and provides ongoing professional development designed to support school counselors working with students in need. More information can be found at ocde.us/professionallearning.

Meanwhile, OCDE is collaborating with Western Youth Services and CHOC Children’s to develop a Mental Health Toolbox aimed at mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on children’s mental health by using a tiered model of prevention, identification and early intervention. Funded by the federal CARES Act relief bill, the Mental Health Toolbox will consist of 27 virtual self-paced workshops and courses, customized for audiences of students, parents, school staff and community members and available in multiple languages. These workshops will address developmental assets, protective factors and the effects of stress on health, and they’ll offer tools to build mental health resilience among children.

OCDE is also providing no-cost workshops for educators and parents covering substance use prevention along with distance learning health promotion and a life-skills curriculum for students. More information is available on the department’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Prevention webpage.

Suicide prevention

CARES Act dollars distributed through the OC Health Care Agency have enabled OCDE to provide more than 2,000 licenses to local districts to provide suicide prevention training for K-12 educators.

Additionally, OCDE is collaborating with the San Diego County Office of Education and the California Department of Education to provide an online suicide prevention training course at no cost to school staff in grades seven through 12, including administrators, teachers, counselors and classified staff. OCDE has also developed a local and national resource list for distribution to schools and districts.

On Sept. 17, the department will offer a separate suicide risk assessment training specifically for school counselors, school psychologists and school social workers. The training will cover recommendations on how practitioners can complete a risk assessment virtually.

Finally, an archive of resources has been shared with school counselors and district leads, featuring tips and strategies for engaging students in school-wide activities and social emotional learning.

School-based initiatives

Through a contract with the OC Health Care Agency, OCDE will offer a variety of school-based mental health services in the 2020-21 school year. The Student Advocates for Mental Health program aims to increase awareness about suicide prevention, reduce stigma related to mental illness, and promote access to mental health services. OCDE will train and support student leadership groups and clubs to create peer-led campaigns, Directing Change Film Contest projects and mental health awareness activities.

OCDE has also received funding through the Mental Health Student Services Act to provide seven regional coordinators to support the county’s 27 school districts. Each coordinator will have an assigned region. Along with offering mental health-related trainings, they will help families access services by building partnerships between school districts, the HCA’s Behavioral Health Services team, and other community-based mental health service providers.

To learn more about OCDE’s mental health services and supports, contact Learning Support Director Jami Parsons at jparsons@ocde.us or Student Achievement and Wellness Director Stacy Deeble-Reynolds at sdeeble-reynolds@ocde.us.