Central Rivers AEA plays active role in state’s mental health plan


Following an announcement by Gov. Kim Reynolds that Iowa will invest $2.1 million to address the mental health needs of the state’s school-aged children, Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies (AEAs) have shifted into high gear to provide support.

Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) has already trained over 400 teachers in youth mental health first aid, a nationally recognized curriculum that teaches about risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, and promotes early intervention to support students who need assistance. In addition, the agency is working with over 20 school districts in the area to form consortiums to employ additional school social workers who can work directly with students with mental health concerns. The agency will lead the project by providing training and ongoing support. In 2020-21, “therapeutic classrooms” or safe spaces for students with mental health challenges to learn will be rolled out.

Consider these important statistics:

  • One in five children and adolescents have or will have signs of a mental health disorder during the duration of a year
  • Half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by 14 years of age
  • Only 20% of children with mental health disorders receive treatment
  • Of students who receive services 70-80% of students obtain them through the school
  • In a classroom of 25 students, 15 were exposed to violence in the past year, six were victims of crime.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth nationally. In Iowa, 21% of youth surveyed reported that they have seriously comptemplated suicide. 

Central Rivers AEA has prioritized meeting the well-being needs of students and provides supports and services to schools, students and families. Services are based on a comprehensive, whole child approach that includes proactive/prevention supports,  intervention supports and crisis response to truly meet the needs.

The recent funding appropriation is not the first time the AEAs have been tapped to help with the challenge of supporting mental wellness for students. During the 2018 legislative session, a new requirement was put in place to require a one-hour, annual training for all educators in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. The AEA system developed AEA Learning Online Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention Training in response to that requirement.

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Dana Miller is a School Psychologist with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA) based in Cedar Falls. She can be reached at dmiller@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 65,000 students in 18 counties of Iowa.