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University of Kansas Medical Center announces $9 million federal grant to improve children’s behavioral health in Southeast Kansas and the region

The grant administered through the Department of Pediatrics at KU School of Medicine will fund KanAWARE, a multi-agency project formed to address escalating student behavioral health needs in the Southeast Kansas corridor.

Student and counselor sit around table; student pulls out Jenga block with emotions written on them
School-based therapist Breanna Ward, LSCSW, in blue, uses "Feelings Jenga" with students to help start conversations. Ward uses games as an engaging way to build a therapeutic relationship. Photo contributed by Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.

The University of Kansas Medical Center announced a five-year, nearly $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Center for Mental Health Services in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

This grant, administered through the Department of Pediatrics at KU School of Medicine, will fund KanAWARE, a multi-agency project formed to address escalating student behavioral health needs in the S­­outheast Kansas corridor, which consists of 11 counties representing the state’s communities most at risk for poverty, violence, trauma, substance use and mental health concerns.

Improving K-12 student mental health

The principal investigator for KanAWARE is Eve-Lynn Nelson, Ph.D., a professor and child psychologist at KU School of Medicine. “We have never faced a time of greater student behavioral health needs, matched with community innovation to meet these needs,” she said.

KanAWARE, supported by the SAMHSA Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) funding opportunity, will combine the efforts of government agencies, schools, health care providers, social services and advocacy organizations to improve K-12 student mental health through evidence-based interventions.

Rural school communities face long-standing health disparities and unmet behavioral health needs that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. KanAWARE will integrate school-based community health workers into the behavioral health approach to support students and their families.

Coalition of many organizations

“We are excited to be part of the coalition of agencies working on this grant project,” said Andy Brown, Behavioral Health Services Commissioner for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS). “This project will help establish a sustainable infrastructure for promoting behavioral health in schools.” 

The project will be a collaboration among:

  • KU Medical Center
  • Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE)
  • Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK)
  • DCCCA, Inc.
  • Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters
  • Families Together, Inc.
  • Greenbush Education Service Center
  • Four County Mental Health Center
  • the Kansas Unified School Districts of Coffeyville, Pittsburg and Fort Scott, and
  • the Unified School District of Eldon, Missouri

Mental health services critical to education process

Delivering mental health services through school districts is a key part of KanAWARE, and one that will make a tremendous difference for Kansas students. “Ensuring mental health services and training are available to every student and educator across Kansas is critical to the education process,” said Shanna Bigler, coordinator of school mental health for the KSDE. “By being able to access services within the school, we’re able to decrease absenteeism and increase learning.”

“We value our partnership with KU Medical Center over the last five years and its impact in meeting the behavioral and other health care needs of our students and families,” said Craig Correll, Ed.D., superintendent of Coffeyville USD 445 schools. “We are excited to continue this partnership as it expands through the AWARE funding.”

Expansion of Telehealth ROCKS

KanAWARE is an expansion of the Telehealth ROCKS (Regional Outreach for Communities, Kids and Schools) program in the pediatrics department at KU School of Medicine. Telehealth ROCKS is a school-based tele-behavioral health program, established in 2015, that provides services across specialties (e.g., psychology, psychiatry, developmental medicine, applied behavior). The program provides a comprehensive approach to children's needs, including education, health and social services.  

“Our Telehealth ROCKS team and partners are grateful for KanAWARE funding to extend our strongest, evidence-supported behavioral health strategies and to set students up for success now and in the future,” Nelson said.

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