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School system gets huge grant to boost mental health reach

The Liberty County School System recently received a $3.87 million Trauma Informed Support Services Project Wellness and Wellbeing grant to be implemented over a fouryear period.

This grant, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was one of only five issued in the nation and the only one in Georgia. It will allow the district to create school-based support and mental health services to include implementing targeted screening to identify students in need, establishing a referral pathway to ensure students receive the necessary supports and services, providing comprehensive training and support for school staff, and implementing a family and community engagement plan to increase awareness of the impact of trauma on children and youth.

“We are so thankful for this opportunity for our district. So many of our students need support and we are fortunate to receive this funding so we can provide the services needed for our students who are experiencing trauma,” said Liberty County Schools Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry.

School board members learned at their meeting Tuesday the grant had been awarded to Liberty County Schools and approved four positions to go along with the grant.

Work on the grant started in March and the application was submitted in May, said Melaniann Pass, school system military coordinator.

Liberty County has the highest concentration of veterans in the state, and the county and the school system have been identified as having a great need for mental health services. Liberty County has been designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area for all categories measured, including mental health. Liberty County also has the highest death rate due to suicide in the Southeast Georgia region from 201921.

The school system has an existing memorandum of understanding with the Fraser Counseling Center. The support will be done in tiers, with the first tier consisting of students getting screened. In the second tier, there will be small group support. School counselors and social workers will be trained about trauma, Pass said.

“A huge part of this is training,” she said. “We’re going to be staff, we’re going to be training the community, we’re going to be training anybody who works with juveniles and students. A big part of it is community stakeholder and involvement.”

The training will include how to recognize signs of trauma, and Pass said students may have had trauma in their past.

“Sometimes trauma comes out in different behaviors,” she said. “They may not be achieving academically or they may be having trouble behaviorally.”

Board member Carol Guyett said the program can be especially beneficial to the military students in the system.

“Seeing what those children are going through right now, dads, moms are away. The younger you are, the less you understand and the older you are, the bigger the problems are,” she said. “This is going to allow us to do so much more.”

Board Chair Verdell Jones also applauded receiving the grant.

“We like to say mental health is real, and then we don’t do anything about it,” she said.

The grant maximum is four years at $970,000 per year. Liberty County Schools received $969,628 for each year of the fouryear grant.

There also are three fulltime positions and one part-time position as part of the grant — a program director, an implementation care coordinator who makes sure the training is aligned, a third position to oversee the clinical portion and the fourth and parttime spot will be involved in data collection for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“We will get a lot of feedback and guidance from SAMHSA,” Pass said The grant rollout will take place September 30.

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