OAKLAND, Calif. (September 22, 2021) – Blue Shield of California today announced a $1 million community investment to help the California Department of Education expand much-needed support for youth mental and behavioral health services within the state’s school system.
Blue Shield is contributing the funds to the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation, the philanthropy arm of the California Department of Education. This community investment is part of Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative, the nonprofit health plan’s multi-year effort to support youth mental health, and builds on existing work with the state Department of Education to train educators to recognize and address mental health concerns in youth.
The California Department of Education oversees the education of 6 million youth at more than 10,000 schools with 300,000 teachers. Through this investment, Blue Shield and the state’s education leaders will increase access, awareness, and advocacy for youth mental health.
Building on current efforts, this latest contribution will support:
- Designing a new, statewide system to help increase access to mental and behavioral health services and to help school districts expand access to preventative programming and other innovative treatment models.
- Scaling youth mental health training for more educators with flexibility in trainings.
- Enhancing content such as evolving programming to be more trauma-informed and culturally affirming, particularly for BIPOC youth (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).
- Creating a statewide Medi-Cal technical assistance guide that Local Education Agencies can use to help more families access mental and behavioral health benefits.
Since launching in 2019, Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative has collaborated with the California Department of Education to support similar mental health initiatives. These include scaling the department’s Youth Mental Health First Aid program, which in the last two years has trained nearly 3,500 educators and caring adults to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental distress in youth. In addition, BlueSky is supporting the launch of the Angst: Building Resilience statewide initiative, which aims to raise awareness around anxiety through the 2017 documentary “Angst.” The film will be free for schools to screen throughout the year beginning in October 2021.
“Our goal is to build a healthier future for all Californians, and that includes addressing the mental health needs of our state’s youth,” said Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California. “We’re excited to expand our collaboration with the California Department of Education, making sure youth have equitable access to care. Communities of color have not only faced a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on their health but also bore witness to traumatic social injustices on a national scale. These funds will help equip educators with the tools to continue breaking down barriers to access and helping support the mental health needs of youth who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.”
“I’m incredibly pleased and thankful for the contribution from Blue Shield because we can’t help our students academically until we take into account their mental health and social-emotional needs,” said Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction. “Students are still returning to the classroom, and we’re continuing to reconfigure and centralize supports and resources. In time, California schools will see robust and historic levels of mental health programming, which I believe will provide critical support to students and families. Partnerships, like this one, between public and private entities, are essential in implementing this vision.”
Addressing an Urgent Need
California youth are facing a mental health crisis. According to a 2019 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study, almost half of California teens have recently struggled with mental health issues – with nearly a third reporting serious psychological distress that could interfere with academic and social functioning. Additionally, the 2020 California Children’s Report Card cites that mental illness is the top reason California youth are hospitalized.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made this year’s return to school especially stressful for youth and their families. According to a recent Blue Shield of California BlueSky survey, three in four California youth are nervous about catching COVID in school, eight in 10 are worried about academic achievement, and six in 10 are worried about socializing with their friends.
“Across the state, youth are grappling with an unprecedented number of stressors,” said David Bond, LCSW, director of Behavioral Health for Blue Shield. “When educators are trained to identify signs of mental distress in their students, they can create an encouraging environment that promotes healthy dialogue.”
According to the Blue Shield of California BlueSky survey, 20% of teens surveyed discussed their mental health with a teacher over the past year. However, BIPOC teens were less likely (13%) to reach out to an educator than their white classmates (29%), highlighting the critical need to build the capacity of school-based professionals to engage with students in culturally responsive and equitable ways.
“With the investment from Blue Shield, the California Department of Education is positioned to be a key partner as we build capacity within schools to reduce stigma and increase access for families and youth, especially from the BIPOC communities to engage in mental health services,” said Dr. Daniel Lee, the state’s deputy superintendent. “Blue Shield has positioned the state Department of Education to build the necessary infrastructure to leverage the current state investment in mental health into an opportunity for lasting change that provides all students with access to healthy school environments and positive learning communities, with the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes.”
For more information about the Blue Shield of California BlueSky program and resources for youth, parents, and educators, please visit: blueshieldca.com/bluesky
About Blue Shield of California
Blue Shield of California strives to create a healthcare system worthy of its family and friends that is sustainably affordable. Blue Shield of California is a tax paying, nonprofit, independent member of the Blue Shield Association with over 4.5 million members, more than 7,500 employees and more than $21 billion in annual revenue. Founded in 1939 in San Francisco and now headquartered in Oakland, Blue Shield of California and its affiliates provide health, dental, vision, Medicaid, and Medicare healthcare service plans in California. The company has contributed more than $150 million to Blue Shield of California Foundation in the last four years to have an impact on California communities.
For more news about Blue Shield of California, please visit news.blueshieldca.com.