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Georgia consistently ranks poorly among states in children’s mental health services, this year ranking 51st in a report from the Commonwealth Fund. However, state leadership has been adamant about improving Georgia’s system of care through the infusion of additional dollars for children’s mental health services in the state budget and through innovative programs like Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education (AWARE).
Georgia Project AWARE is a youth mental health initiative focused on improving the experiences of school-aged youth in Georgia, and is funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) to the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE).
The purpose of Georgia’s Project AWARE is “to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth; provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid; and connect children, youth, and families who may have behavioral health issues with appropriate services.”
The four main goals of Georgia Project AWARE are:
- Increase participation of families, youth, and communities and mental health providers in efforts to identify the mental health resources available to meet the needs of students and families;
- Increase awareness and identification of mental health and behavior concerns, and student and family access to mental health providers through the PBIS framework in Georgia Project AWARE (GPA) schools;
- Increase the percentage of Georgia youth and families receiving needed mental health services through collaboration between school systems and community mental health providers; and
- Train educators, first responders, parents and youth group leaders to respond to mental health needs of youth by providing free training in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA).
Georgia’s Project AWARE grant supports the participation of three Georgia school systems: Griffin-Spalding County School System, Muscogee County School District, and Newton County Schools. The GaDOE has partnered with these school districts to provide training in Youth Mental Health First Aid and to develop innovative ways to connect youth and families to community-based mental health services.
Through Project AWARE, elementary and middle school teachers conduct universal screenings of their students and the screening results are used in two ways. School-, grade-, and classroom-level data is used to guide decisions about what universal supports or programs may be needed to better support the social and emotional needs of students. For example, if the results of the screening show high rates of anxiety for an entire grade of students, school leaders and teachers may make changes to school practices that may contribute to student anxiety or implement a program to help reduce or address the anxiety students are feeling.
Individual level screening results are used to identify those students who could benefit from extra social and emotional supports. These students are then connected to the appropriate behavioral services through partnerships the schools have developed with community-based providers.
Georgia Project AWARE has already screened a total of 18,713 students in 29 schools. Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability and the Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management provide support for the program through analysis of the screening results and trainings for school leadership and staff.
In Getting to know Project AWARE: Part II, we’ll learn more about Youth Mental Health First Aid and how it helps educators meet the social and emotional needs of their students.
To learn more about Georgia Project AWARE:
- Visit the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE)
- Read more from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA)
- Read the latest issue of the Georgia Project AWARE Digest