Budget Cuts? Here are 5 Strategies to Prove the ROI of Your School-Based Mental Health Programs

Author: Jillian Kelton, M.Ed

As educators and administrators, ensuring the mental well-being of our students is essential. Mental health is as important as physical health. School-based mental health teams and programs play a critical role in providing support and resources to students in need. However, to truly maximize the return on investment (ROI) of these programs, given budget limitations, it's essential to apply a strategic lens to measure their success. (And, don't forget the importance of getting creative with funding sources like school-based mental health grants and Daybreak's shared funding model with insurance partnerships, saving districts 50% of costs.)

Here are five key strategies for student support teams to leverage to get the most out of school-based mental health initiatives and programs:

1. Self-Assessment and Resource Allocation

Begin by conducting a comprehensive self-assessment of your current resources and practices. Determine where you stand in meeting the needs of your students and identify any gaps or areas for improvement. Utilize a tiered approach, such as the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), to categorize resources based on their level of intervention. Tier 1 interventions should focus on integrating social emotional checks into everyday instruction. It should happen in every classroom and everywhere in the school building. As I shared in my recap of our webinar “Breaking the Stigma: Mental Health Support for Black Youths,” schools should start exposing students and families to language around health, well-being and mental health to make it normal for people to talk about it. As a tier 1 intervention, teachers should have permission to talk about well-being in the classroom and help to build a culture around asking for help.

Tiers 2 and 3 provide more targeted support for those with mild to severe mental health concerns. For example, teletherapy is a tier 2 and 3 support that drives positive clinical improvements by working with students virtually to address symptoms like anxiety, depression, and more. By understanding the tiers and mapping available resources accordingly, you can ensure that students receive appropriate support before escalating to higher tiers.

2. Calibration and Resource Optimization

Once resources are categorized, calibrate their effectiveness by evaluating how students access them and identifying any barriers or inefficiencies in the system. Analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to gain insights into student needs and resource utilization patterns. 

For example, if you have a program that you know students have thrived in but there are not many referrals, you might need to look at the way in which the program is communicated to both staff and student communities. Daybreak launched a new teletherapy program with Keppel Union School District in early March 2024 and the number of students who have already been referred to the program have exceeded the district’s yearly goal. In collaboration with the Keppel Union team, Daybreak launched a multi-pronged approach of the program which included staff and administrative training, support and education materials for staff, students, and families, and created multiple referral pathways.

Other ideas include having a representative from the program come and do informational sessions during “Back to School Night” or at grade level assemblies is a great way to boost awareness and participation. The calibration and resource optimization process allows you to identify gaps in services and repurpose existing resources to better meet student needs. By optimizing resource allocation and improving access pathways, you can ensure that no student falls through the cracks.

3. Data-Informed Decision Making

Harness the power of data to gain a deeper understanding of student strengths and areas requiring additional support. Use qualitative and quantitative data to identify trends at both individual and community levels. This will involve looking at historical school data, i.e attendance, grades, school mobility, standardized test scores, etc. We know that use of this data can tell us part of a student’s story. We also must leave room to address student growth and potential as we never want to pigeonhole a student or label them. 

Using historical data enables you to support students with appropriate resources to proactively address emerging needs. For example, a student may have done poorly in an academic class but scored high on a related state assessment. This student clearly has the potential to thrive in an honors level class but may have needed more academic rigor or culturally relevant content in the classroom. We want to continue to challenge that student academically so we must provide them with access to curriculum and instruction that is engaging, affirming of their background, and challenging. 

Looking at only one piece of data tells us only part of the story. By building flexible systems that adapt to evolving student needs, you can create a supportive and growth focused environment that fosters growth and resilience.

4. Engagement of Key Stakeholders

Mental health support is a community effort that requires collaboration among various stakeholders. Engage parents, city officials, community-based organizations (CBOs), and other relevant parties in the planning and implementation of mental health programs. Recently, Boston Public Schools partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission and a local healthcare agency to provide expanded school-based clinical support in ten schools. This was made possible by a strong city supported relationship between the public schools and the public health commission. 

All stakeholders must have a seat at the table and contribute their perspectives to the decision-making process. By fostering a holistic approach to mental health support, you can leverage the collective expertise and resources of the community to benefit students.

5. Evaluation and Feedback Loop

Establish ways for ongoing evaluation and feedback to assess the effectiveness of your mental health programs. Gather anecdotal feedback from students, staff, and parents to gauge their experiences and satisfaction levels. Monitor attrition rates to ensure that students are receiving the support they need and are not slipping through the cracks. Solicit feedback from the broader community to assess the impact of your programs on school and neighborhood safety. 

When Daybreak partners with a school district, we proactively provide data, in an ongoing way, to the school-based team to evaluate the program’s success. When districts partner with Daybreak Health, they receive a monthly aggregate report that includes: utilization, trends, reasons for referral to Daybreak for services and more.  This enables and empowers the district with the information needed to support the MTSS interventions across all campuses. 

Example: Daybreak Data Report

By continuously evaluating and refining your programs based on data and feedback, you can ensure that your school-based mental health initiatives are making a meaningful difference in the lives of students.

With continued budget constraints and program evaluations, it’s essential to maximize the ROI of your district's school-based mental health programs through a strategic and collaborative approach. By conducting self-assessments, optimizing resource allocation, leveraging data, engaging stakeholders, and establishing feedback mechanisms, educators and administrators can create a supportive environment that meets the diverse needs of students and fosters their overall well-being. Investing in mental health support is not only essential for individual student success but also for building resilient and thriving communities.

Learn more about Daybreak Health’s school-based mental health support programs.

Downloadable Content

The State of Youth Mental Health & Our Schools

How schools are responding to the rising demand for student mental health services.