Strengthening the role of schools in mental health promotion, prevention and intervention is key to battling the mental health crisis afflicting our nation’s children, experts said during First Focus on Children’s Kids and COVID Conversation Series.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) have introduced the Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act (H.R. 7672 / S. 3704), which would establish a new grant initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services to hire and retain mental health and substance use disorder care providers in schools. The bill includes a 90% increase in federal Medicaid matching funds to pay for these services, allowing states to increase the rate of pay for these providers in a sustainable manner.

“We are pleased to support the Advancing Student Services in Schools Today (ASSIST) Act,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “Our children are in the throes of a mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and its emotional, social, educational and financial challenges. We must do everything in our power to get them the help they need.”

Research has shown that youth are six times more likely to initiate and complete mental health treatment in schools than in community settings, according to Kids and COVID panelist Dr. Sharon Hoover from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The ASSIST Act’s proposal to integrate school services with Medicaid has already proven successful in school systems such as in Michigan’s.

Michigan began building its school-based mental health services with a $30 million investment in FY 2019 — just $20 per student, Scott Hutchins from Michigan’s Department of Education said during the March 16 Kids and COVID panel. The state successfully integrated the program with existing systems — such as Medicaid — to make them reimbursable and sustainable. This year, Hutchins said, the $300+ million effort has more than 1,400 service providers in schools across the state.

For a fuller explanation of the mental health challenges facing our nation’s children — and recommendations for addressing them — visit our fact sheet at