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WCCUSD partners with firm to help more students access mental health counseling

on October 7, 2023

Nearly 40% of 11th graders in the West Contra Costa Unified School District have reported “chronic sadness,” according to a recent California Healthy Kids Survey.  

The survey says chronic sadness has been on the rise in the county and the state, across grade levels, since 2017.

“This is definitely shocking,” said LaShante Smith, the district’s director of positive school climate, after presenting the survey results at the Sept. 6 school board meeting. 

Smith said the district is hoping to turn the tide and address untreated mental health conditions through a new partnership with Care Solace, which helps school staff, students and their families find available mental health care providers.

A chart shows in dark blue that 39% of WCCUSD students said they felt chronically sad in the past 12 months.

WCCUSD is among the latest to partner with Care Solace, which provides service to 3 million of the state’s 6 million K-12 students, reaching 377 districts, according to company representatives. 

Contra Costa County Office of Education paid $186,626 for the 2023-24 school year for Care Solace in 12 school districts, including WCCUSD, according to spokesperson Marcus Walton.

The Oakland Unified School District has partnered with Care Solace since fall 2021, paying $102,000 annually. 

“Care Solace does the heavy lifting so that families and staff are able to get into care sooner,” said OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki. 

The California Healthy Kids Survey measured chronic sadness by gathering student responses to the question: In the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that you stopped doing some usual activities?

Over one-third of West Contra Costa seventh and ninth graders answered “Yes” during the 2021-22 school year. During the same school year, 17% of ninth graders said they had seriously considered suicide in the past year. 

When addressing student mental health, Smith said one problem is a shortage of mental health care providers.

“Even some of our community partners are not able to hire clinicians,” she said. “So we’re having to think really creatively and really strategically about how we are allocating resources to our sites that don’t currently have mental health support.” 

WCCUSD board member Leslie Reckler said she’s interested to see how the program works, and what people think about it.

Sasaki said the Oakland program has met a need, but “one challenge is that many providers moved to telehealth services during the pandemic, so there are fewer in-person appointments available.” 

“While telehealth works well for some, it is not a modality that works for everyone,” he said. “For example, not everyone has space in the home to talk to a counselor privately.” 

In West Contra Costa, several parents said they were unaware of the program but are looking forward to hearing more about it. 

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Rochelle Morrissey, a parent of two students at West County Mandarin. “There’s just too much of a need.”

With community schools strategy, WCCUSD becomes model for other districts

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