May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a good opportunity to remind us of the importance of mental health awareness. This is especially true during these trying times, due to COVID-19, which can cause added anxiety and other wellness concerns for young people. The closing of schools has brought many changes and challenges to students and their families but rest assured that this distance has not interfered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) ability to ensure continuity of social-emotional and mental health support. The Department of Mental Health Services, which is just under two years in operation, has seamlessly shifted face-to-face interactions with telephonic and virtual platform sessions to coordinate and facilitate services.
The Department of Mental Health Services is working in full collaboration with other departments within M-DCPS to best meet the needs of students and families. Sixty-five mental health coordinators are continuing to meet frequently with students, who they were already working with prior to school closures, while also working with newly referred students. Additionally, school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists are also providing beneficial services to students and families.
In order to streamline support, the M-DCPS Mental Health Services Parent Assistance Line, (305) 995-7100, is active Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to answer calls from students and families. Through the assistance line, licensed mental health professionals provide immediate support and ensure the full coordination of invaluable resources and services. School Site Threat Assessment Teams (comprised of school administrators, mental health professionals, educators and members of law enforcement) continue to meet virtually to assess the well-being of students and provide follow up actions and services. Teams are meeting on a regular basis to ensure continued safety and support.
The Department of Mental Health Services has also delivered a variety of mental health awareness trainings since being established in July 2018. These trainings, such as Youth Mental Health Awareness First Aid, At-Risk for K-12 Educators, Trauma-Informed Practices K-12 Schools give school staff members the information and training they need to assist them in identifying warning signs that a student may be having a mental health challenge or crisis. These “tools” in their pockets are exceptionally important during this time of distance learning where they must determine cues via virtual settings. Should a staff member become concerned, the student is immediately referred to the school’s administration and/or mental health professional for assessment. Law enforcement is also notified, should it be deemed necessary.
In an effort to offer another protective layer of support for students and families, M-DCPS works in impactful and consistent partnership with community-based organizations including The Children’s Trust, as well as several contracted mental health agencies. Services are provided telephonically and via telehealth counseling during distance learning. Services include screenings and assessments, individual and group counseling, family counseling, substance use services, and case management.
In addition to the abundant mental health services and supports provided by the M-DCPS Department of Mental Health, teachers and mental health professionals continue to incorporate social-emotional learning programs through virtual platforms to support students’ needs during this time of isolation. These programs help students enhance their capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively with daily tasks and challenges.
It is also critical that students and parents are aware of these beneficial resources. In addition to contacting their child’s school and visiting their school’s website, the Department of Mental Health Services Department encourages parents to contact the Parent Assistance Line at (305) 995-7100 and to visit mentalhealthservices.dadeschools.net/ to ensure immediate services, support and attainable resources. We are here to help!