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Michigan Department of Education Supports School Districts Behavioral Health Needs

Today we are talking with Mr. Scott Hutchins and Mr. Michael Leathhead of Michigan Department of Education while they share a plethora of knowledge, innovative resources, and insight regarding behavioral health needs and safety within the Michigan school district  This pilot program highlights the needs of the students not only from a safety aspect but from a mental health and wellness perspective too.  We also discuss the relationships between parents, students, and school-based providers and the importance of data and health information pertaining to students  receiving top-notch, quality mental health services.  We explore data, research, and confidential health information exchanges relating to confidentiality and exchanging information with community care partners.

When election season of  2018 ended, Mr. Hutchins, a School Mental Health, and Medicaid Consultant for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) in the Office of Health and Nutrition Services. revealed that the department formed a committee to assess the safety needs within the school districts in Michigan.  The primary focus was to look at the hardening of schools, including but not limited to bulletproofing specific areas, restricting school exits and entrances to decrease accessibility, requiring more check-ins, etc.  As the committee continued to meet and confer regarding the needs of the schools, the groups focus slightly shifted toward discovering ways to meet the needs of the students, especially as it related to students exhibiting self-harm and violence toward others.  This shift, or pivot, allowed members to take a look into the students' behavioral and mental health needs while simultaneously reducing barriers and challenges preventing students from gaining access to treatment, community services, and safety.  As a result, school-based health providers were added to the program to provide services such as screenings, check-ins, psychotherapy (individual and group), and psychoeducational activities. Mr. Leathead, Behavioral Health Education Consultant and Education Consultant Manger from the School Health and Safety Unit carefully highlighted that school hardening is more than just addressing the safety issues. Behavioral health and the mental needs of the students should also be included in safety discussions. 

Although telehealth is unavailable in some school districts within the state, both Mr. Hutchins and Mr. Leathead revealed that students have unlimited access to the National Crisis line, National Crisis Line, 988, and the Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL), where they can text with trained counselors who will respond and offer community referrals and other pertinent services to those in emotional crisis.  Research shows that both school hardening and students' behavioral health are correlated. 

Mr. Hutchins, talked candidly about the Department of Education’s recent partnership with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Department of Health and Human Services that began on October 1, 2022, and the discussions surrounding various ways for school-based providers to connect with parents and safeguard health information confidentially with other community providers while providing the support and safety needed for students.  Telehealth is something they are looking to provide.  Still, it has to be done correctly and safely, as confidentiality is a significant component of the program. Surprisingly, Michigan is the only state to implement this program and welcomes all states to begin a program of this caliber to meet students where they are in order to provide quality behavioral health care.

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Mike Leathead is a husband of 14 years and has two elementary aged kids. Mike is a first-generation college graduate who holds an MS in Educational Leadership from Concordia University of Ann Arbor and a BA in Secondary Education from Spring Arbor University with a Mathematics major and English minor. During his professional tenure as a servant leader, Mike has worked in elementary, middle, and high school settings as a teacher and school principal for 15 years. Additionally, he has worked in higher education as an adjunct faculty member at Jackson College. Mike has been with the Michigan Department of Education since January 2019 working as a Behavioral Health Education Consultant and currently as an Education Consultant Manger within the School Health and Safety Unit working on various aspects such as Adverse Childhood Experiences, suicide prevention, expanding behavioral and mental health services to students, and supervising a multi-million-dollar federal grant focused on mental health services and awareness. Mike is an advocate for all learners and their families. In his spare time, he enjoys camping, golfing, helping kids learn math, and offering the occasional eyerolling dad joke.

Scott Hutchins is a School Mental Health and Medicaid Consultant for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) in the Office of Health and Nutrition Services. Scott is a life-long learner committed to servant leadership with a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in Elementary Education. Prior to MDE, Scott worked as a teacher and administrator for 20 years in various K-12 settings, including general education, special education, urban, suburban, and rural, and these experiences have provided him with a diverse perspective that informs all of his work. Given that experience, he has seen firsthand the devastating effect of poor behavioral health care for students and the disparities that exist between the advantaged and disadvantaged. Scott is mindful of the unearned benefits he has received because of a systemic structure that grants privileges to some people and withholds them from others. Scott embraces diversity and understands he has a responsibility to work daily to combat discrimination and promote the worth of everyone. Scott is passionate about being a champion for ALL learners and is committed to being better than he was the day before.

By: Monique Nixon

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