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AISD Receives $4.48 Million Grant For On-Campus Mental Health Centers

The Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor has awarded Austin Independent School District a grant of almost $4.5 million. These funds will provide mental health services to elementary children and their families who are victims of crime.

AISD is the first school district in Texas to receive funding from this source.

Twenty-two elementary campuses, which feed into LBJ, Lanier, and Akins high schools, will each have two staff dedicated to delivering therapeutic services to students and families. The funds, monitored by the Governor’s Office, are from the federal Victims of Crime Assistance Act of 1984.

“This grant from the Criminal Justice Division will help provide valuable services for Texas elementary children who are victims of crime and their families,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. “As governor, I am committed to protecting our most vulnerable and providing the help they need to fully rehabilitate after a traumatic experience. This grant will help ensure that these young students’ lives are not defined by the crimes they have experienced but with the right help move on to be happy and productive”

The 22 elementary schools fall within the “east Austin crescent” pattern of high child maltreatment identified by a 2012 study from Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and Children’s Optimal Health. Factors, including high-crime neighborhoods, lack of transportation, language and challenges navigating support systems, often delay or even prevent children and families from getting the help they need.

"By providing mental health services on campus, we are able to identify, support, and efficiently provide clinical treatment for our students experiencing a variety of mental health issues,” said Tracy Spinner, AISD assistant director of comprehensive health services. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to expand the number of campuses to elementary schools with direct access to this critical resource at no cost for families.”

Left untreated, child victims often fail to develop social and emotional competencies on par with their peers, and are more likely to respond to stress with underdeveloped coping strategies, through such behaviors as aggression, dissociation and avoidance. Ability to self-regulate is predictive of longer-term academic and social success.

AISD’s application was strengthened by the fact that school staff have day-to-day contact with young victims and are often the first to become aware of trauma-impacted behaviors. By giving educators and the criminal justice system immediate referral avenues, the child can more quickly transition into a coordinated plan for restoration. 

AISD’s strength as an applicant was also based on past success in delivering mental health services on campuses and an existing infrastructure that will support the model on 22 elementary campuses. The first mental health center pilot was set up in 2011 at Crockett High School and has expanded to 18 middle and high schools in the district. 

The district has received national and state recognition for its work in the mental health area.

“Austin schools are at the forefront of recognizing the importance of addressing children’s mental health to ensure student success,” said Michelle Harper, VP for Child and Family Policy at The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas. “The expected successes from this [grant] will serve as a model for other Texas school districts.”

AISD has taken lessons learned to the state Legislature, and continues to advocate for refinements to existing systems so that Medicaid and other funding sources can be utilized in the future for campus-based mental health services in Austin and throughout Texas.

Austin ISD’s approach will include collaboration across the system including home, school, treatment providers, individual child. The model emphasizes development of healthy attachments with caregivers, support with self-regulation and development of child competency.

Primary grant-funded activities will include victim identification, therapeutic services, lead therapists, second therapists, wrap-around supports, teacher professional development and evaluation.

For more information, please visit austinisd.org/student-health/mental-health.