County announces VASD mental health initiative

Scott Girard

Under a proposed new initiative, Dane County will give $90,000 to the Verona Area School District next year to assist with handling students’ mental health situations.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, along with VASD superintendent Dean Gorrell and other representatives from the Verona area, announced the policy at a press conference Monday at Verona Area High School.

“This need exists across our county, across our state and across our nation,” Gorrell said of funding to work with students who face mental health issues.

The program will provide a master’s level professional and a bachelor’s level case manager to both VASD and the Sun Prairie School District.

The two will form a Children’s Mental Health Stabilization Team that will offer multiple services, including assistance in de-escalating crisis mental health situations, training school staff and law enforcement on appropriate intervention techniques and supporting families as needed to ensure continuity at home and at school, among others.

The program would total $180,000 from the 2014-15 budget, and Parisi called it his “number one” priority, as far as new budget items. He announced his proposed budget Tuesday.

“Governing is about priorities,” he said Monday in Verona. “These are very well-spent dollars.”

The county’s Department of Human Services will also look to generate additional revenues for the program through the Medicaid Crisis Stabilization for Medicaid-eligble children. The exact amount is unknown, but DHS “conservatively” estimates an additional $16,000.

According to a recent survey from the Dane County Education Task Force, a majority of the county’s superintendents cited mental health services as the “most significant unmet need of children and families in their district,” according to a news release from Parisi’s office.

Parisi said he first learned of the issue school districts faced this summer when he met with Joining Forces for Families, a county program with offices in many communities, including Verona, to learn about problems like this one.

The key to the program’s success, Parisi said, will be “constant communication” between the school district and the county to evaluate how things are going.

He hopes it improves the situation for law enforcement officials and those in the schools on a daily basis.

“It’s important that law enforcement has the proper resources to refer that child to,” Parisi said. “Right now, sometimes law enforcement may get a referral and they have to show up and … the resources might not be there readily available for them.”

If the program works as planned, Parisi said it will save money long-term by helping the district intervene with potential issues early, therefore preventing the costs that can be associated with a major incident down the road.

County Sup. Erika Hotchkiss, who serves the Verona area and has three children of her own in VASD schools, said the initiative should help all students, regardless of their mental health.

“It creates an environment more conducive for all students, teachers and staff,” she said.


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