The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand mental health support for students returning to school.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger co-authored a motion calling for more student services and training for teachers to recognize mental health problems.
"Before COVID-19, one in five children had a diagnosed mental health disorder and with the pandemic these behavioral challenges have only increased and intensified," Solis said.
"For many students, our schools were the first line of mental health support and due to necessary closures to safeguard our public health many went without this invaluable resource for their mental health."
The board directed the Department of Mental Health to work with the county's Office of Education on a comprehensive plan to meet students' mental health needs.
The work will include consultation with the UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing to create a mental health resource toolkit with trauma-responsive training and information on how to identify warning signs of depression and anxiety in children.
Peer-to-peer opportunities to help could include programs modeled on the Community Ambassador Network, which allowed residents to voluntarily help spread the word about how not to spread COVID-19.
Getting back in the classroom will help, but Barger said more needs to be done.
"While enabling students to return to the classroom will help provide the social and emotional wellness they've missed over the last year, the impacts from the pandemic will still have lasting effects on their wellbeing," Barger said.
"I was proud to recognize an arts therapy program implemented in our local schools by the Department of Mental Health in 2020 for this very reason. I know today's effort will continue to provide the support our children need and deserve as they navigate learning in a new context."
As part of the motion, the board directed the county CEO to identify federal funding that could be used to expand mental health supports on school campuses.
The board also declared May Mental Health Awareness Month which will include a month of free community programs for residents of all ages, including through the WE RISE initiative. WE RISE, in its fourth year, highlights the healing powers of art and connection.