I'm grateful to President Trump for shining a light on school safety, convening the commission, and driving toward action on this issue, and I'm especially grateful to every parent who's joined us here today.
I want to thank you for your advocacy, your passion, and your willingness to work toward keeping our kids and our schools safer.
As Prepared for Delivery
Hello, everyone, and thank you so much for joining us here today.
I'm glad to be here representing Secretary Azar and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Together, Secretary Azar and I have both been deeply involved in the work of the school safety commission and thinking about how to improve our kids' mental health.
I take this issue especially seriously not only as the parent of school-aged children, but also as someone who has family and friends in a community, Paducah, Kentucky, which experienced a deadly school shooting in the 1990s, which I remember well and has driven a personal interest in this issue for me.
So I'm grateful to President Trump for shining a light on school safety, convening the commission, and driving toward action on this issue, and I'm especially grateful to every parent who's joined us here today.
I want to thank you for your advocacy, your passion, and your willingness to work toward keeping our kids and our schools safer. I can scarcely imagine the pain that many of you have felt. As we approach the two-year anniversary of the tragedy in Parkland, I am thankful that parents have been so dedicated to working to stop such horrific events in the future.
The input of parents has been absolutely vital to the work of the Federal Commission on School Safety, and in particular to HHS's work.
We deal with some of the most sensitive aspects of keeping our schools safe and building healthy environments: how schools, families, and communities can support better mental health for our kids.
We believe there's tremendous potential to do that: to build healthier environments for our children, to provide help and treatment for those in need, and to make our schools and communities safer as a result.
We've already seen some promising examples of how this can be done, including through a visit that Secretary Azar and Secretary DeVos paid to a Wisconsin school where mental health services were provided right on campus, integrating them into an environment where children feel safe. Early on in the school safety commission's work, I also represented HHS at a commission meeting at the Department of Education, where we heard about efforts to prevent and address bullying, both inside school and outside school, including on the internet.
HHS's work under the School Safety Commission aims to help connect American kids to the kinds of services they need to address these challenges and have thriving mental health, so I'll give you a few examples of how that's proceeded so far.
Our Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, has supplemented its existing training programs to provide new resources for training and educating teachers, mental health professionals, and school personnel on developing positive behavioral health interventions for students.
We've had 38 states participate in an intensive school-based learning collaborative in which participants learned strategies to develop strong school-based mental health programs. That includes identifying signs and symptoms of mental illness, providing linkages to care, and working with schools to create safe learning environments.
In particular, we heard through the commission's work that there was confusion about what funds and resources might be used to support school-based mental health services, especially when it came to Medicaid.
That's why, last year, we put out a joint informational bulletin for states and school districts about how that funding can work.
We've seen a number of states already have success with these programs: Florida, for instance, has offered Medicaid-covered mental health screening in schools, while Michigan has offered counseling.
We're also working to help schools and parents better identify warning signs. SAMHSA's Project AWARE grant program, started after the Sandy Hook tragedy, expands the capacity of schools to address the mental health needs of students.
Since 2014, this program has helped identify nearly 400,000 youth as needing referrals for mental health treatment—that's 400,000 lives potentially changed for the better.
In the last fiscal year, more than 57,000 adults involved in students' lives—teachers, parents, and others— were trained through it.
We're very pleased that the government funding bill President Trump signed this December increased this funding by $31 million for this year, bringing the investment in school-based services to $100 million.
Finally, another issue raised as part of the school safety commission was about the safe and effective prescribing of antipsychotic medications for youth.
SAMHSA has been working to educate the public about that issue, too.
The agency's "Guidance on Strategies to Promote Best Practice in Antipsychotic Prescribing for Children and Adolescents" was published in March of 2019, and has now been downloaded more than 10,000 times.
All of these resources I've mentioned will be accessible via the clearinghouse for school safety resources that's being launched today.
We've seen a great deal of work prompted by President Trump's call for new efforts to keep our schools safe. It's already improving school environments, making communities safer, and helping kids lead healthier and happier lives every day.
So I want to thank you all again for supporting these efforts.
The President and Secretary Azar have identified mental health as a major priority for HHS in the coming year, so I look forward to a discussion about how we can further extend this work and cooperation in the years to come.