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Healey-Driscoll Administration Awards Grants to Eight School Districts to Address Mental Health Impacts of Gun Violence

PRESS RELEASE – BOSTON (January 23, 2024)  – The Healey-Driscoll Administration today announced that it has selected eight Massachusetts schools or school districts to receive funding to support programs aimed at addressing the effects of gun violence, particularly the associated behavioral health impacts that can devastate students, staff, schools, and communities long after a violent incident occurs.

Chosen in a competitive process led by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in consultation with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Mental Health, the recipients will each receive a three-year grant ranging from $35,000 to $100,000 a year to implement strategies to prioritize mental health, well-being, and resilience in the wake of gun violence and related trauma. In addition to expanding mental health services, the grants will support the creation of trauma-informed, safe, and supportive school environments that can help prevent violence, reduce behavioral health inequities, and improve outcomes overall.

 

“Gun violence associated with schools and school-aged students has a profound and long-lasting impact on those individuals and communities involved in these tragic events,” said Governor Maura Healey. “The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to supporting programs and initiatives that address mental health challenges in the aftermath of any such gun violence incidents. Here in Massachusetts, we’re committed to having strategies and plans in place that focus on mental health while also being prepared with thoughtful and comprehensive physical security plans.”

“These grants represent a way for school districts – including those in communities that have experienced higher levels of gun violence and suicide – to tailor approaches for caring for the mental health of students and educators that will work best for their specific schools,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. “Our goal is to have support systems accessible and available within schools that can help nurture healing and resilience – and begin the process of restoring a sense of security and stability needed at a challenging time.”

The eight school districts and schools chosen to receive three-year grants are: Fitchburg Public Schools, Veritas Preparatory Charter, Springfield Public Schools, Fall River Public Schools, Medway Public Schools, Ayer Shirley Regional School District, Haverhill Public Schools, and Northshore Education Consortium. These recipients submitted thoughtful and creative proposals with ideas that included:

  • Creating and supporting student-led mental health clubs
  • Defining specific wellness spaces or calming areas within the school environment
  • Hiring mental health clinicians to expand access to needed services
  • Having all staff undergo training focused on building and maintaining trauma-sensitive schools
  • Establishing and supporting LGBTQ+ alliance clubs at middle schools and high schools
  • Expanding the in-school health curriculum to include such topics as bullying, community violence, dating violence, self-care, self-esteem, self-worth, and suicide/self-harm
  • Expanding and promoting peer-mentoring programs to foster a sense of belonging, connection, and student leadership.

The state funding allocated for this grant program is approximately $650,000 a year, for a three-year total of nearly $2 million. The funds come from a reserve established in 2022 – the Behavioral Health Supports and Resources in Schools to Respond to Gun Violence and Related Trauma grant opportunity – which is administered by the Department of Public Health in consultation with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Mental Health. The funding will run through December 2026. The DPH’s Bureau of Community Health and Prevention conducted the review of the applications and selected those to receive funding based on the merits of the proposals submitted, the level of gun violence in a community, and the specific needs of schools in the community.

 

“Gun violence has devastating impacts on young people’s behavioral and mental health, with a greater burden falling on kids in communities most affected by structural racism and economic and social inequities,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh. “We are excited to fund eight school systems that developed promising and creative ways to help students heal from the trauma of gun violence in their communities.”

 

“Across the nation and in Massachusetts gun violence continues to be a pressing public health concern that leaves a long trail of sadness, grief, fear, and anxiety,” said Robbie Goldstein, MD, PhD, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “Schools and educators can – and should – play an essential role in helping to navigate and respond to the range of feelings and worries in the wake of these situations. We want to support efforts across the Commonwealth that can help schools develop and implement tools to foster the healing and recovery process.”

 

“Early intervention and support can have a significant impact on mental health,” said Department of Mental Health Commissioner Brooke Doyle. “Whether it’s gun violence, dating violence, bullying, or other forms of violence, having trauma-informed care in schools can provide the kind of immediate support that makes a difference in a student’s recovery.”

 

“The safety and well-being of our students is of utmost importance,” said Secretary of Education Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. “It’s an honor to join Secretary Walsh and Commissioner Goldstein as we work to increase access to sufficient supports for mental health for our students, particularly those who have experienced trauma.”

 

The regularity of and attention to gun violence and mass shootings nationwide have contributed to an overall increase in concern, fear, and anxiety among school-aged children and teens about their personal safety and the safety of their families. In addition, the rate of mental health disorders among young people has continued to increase. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national state of emergency in child mental health.

 

In Massachusetts, the impact of gun violence has been concentrated in communities that have experienced a higher burden related to structural racism and economic and social inequities. More than a third of firearm deaths and injuries in the state have involved young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Massachusetts also has seen troubling rates of depression and suicidality among children and adolescents, with more than one in three youth reporting depressive symptoms in the past year, and nearly one in five reporting that they have seriously considered suicide. Despite a growing demand for pediatric mental health care, most young people who seek help spend an average of 15 weeks on waitlists, while the majority of youth in need receive no mental health services.

CONTACT

Omar Cabrera

Omar.Cabrera@mass.gov

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