Survey shows improved access to mental health services in SC public schools

The survey done by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a 65% increase in school-based mental health counselors over the past year.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 12:50 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The survey done by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a 65% increase in school-based mental health counselors over the past year.

The survey also found 118 schools gained access to mental health counselors in the past year.

“Our work is not done, Gov. Henry McMaster said. “We will continue to prioritize professional mental health counseling services for our students and look forward to seeing even more progress made in the coming years.”

The agency’s survey found that nine districts have access to mental health counseling that did not have access in 2022. The number of districts where each school has access to counseling increased from 35 to 42.

A review of the state’s school mental health programs was requested by McMaster in 2022.

SCDHHS Director Robby Kerr offered seven recommendations to improve access in May 2022. The recommendations were:

  1. Eliminate the rate disparity currently in place that incentivizes schools to contract with DMH rather than hire their own mental health counselors. This change will provide funding that will enable schools to offer competitive salaries to counselors. Under this recommendation, SCDHHS will contract directly with the school districts. The district will then be free to either; a) hire their own counselors and bill Medicaid directly; b) continue to utilize DMH by assigning the contract to that agency who will then bill Medicaid; c) assign the contract to a private provider who will bill Medicaid directly; or, d) use a combination of these delivery methods to meet the needs of the children in their district.
  2. Streamline administrative processing for school districts by removing administrative barriers and allowing them to bill Medicaid directly for school-based services.
  3. Establish a standard methodology for school district financial participation. The amount that districts contribute needs to be established at a level that ensures active participation but does not place an excessive financial burden on the district.
  4. Leverage telehealth services to improve access to more mental health services. During the first year of the COVID-19 public health emergency, 53% of the total claims reimbursed by Medicaid for services that were delivered through telehealth were for behavioral health services. Creating additional flexibilities to deliver services through telehealth will improve access to school-based services.
  5. Emphasize the need for all counselors to be available to provide crisis intervention services in schools.
  6. Improve the ability of children to receive the quality services they need by providing a three-year phase-in for school-based counselors to become fully licensed.
  7. Provide consultation and professional development resources to school personnel and school-based counselors to help better integrate mental health in schools’ culture and day-to-day operations.

Research from the South Carolina Behavioral Academy shows children are 21 times more likely to access mental health services in schools.