A new statewide report says about 520,000 Missouri K-12 public and charter school students have access to at least one health care service within their school but another 400,000 do not. The first-ever census was conducted by the Show-Me School-Based Health Alliance of Missouri, an organization supporting school-based health program sustainability and continued growth.

New data shows 57% of Missouri K-12 students have access to school-based health care

The data focused on services provided within schools such as mental and behavioral support, physical health services, primary care, telehealth, to oral and vision care. Rachel Barth, the Alliance’s evaluation coordinator, says the research shows there are 675 of these health programs in Missouri and 1,234 schools have access to them. More than three-quarters of them are mental health services.

She says the findings show demographic and geographic inequalities exist for the students who can get these services.

“Only one in five African American students has access to school-based mental/behavioral health services. Whereas one in three white and other minority students have access to the same services,” she says during a virtual event.

According to Barth, most children and youth across the nation who are receiving mental health care access their services at school.

Seventy-nine of Missouri’s 115 counties have access to a school-based health service. About two-thirds of programs are in rural counties and about one-third are in urban counties. The regions of the state without access are especially some counties in northwest, southwest and southeast Missouri.

“While the unique health needs of these communities may not warrant a school-based health program in every county, given the known access challenges in rural areas, additional assessments are needed to understand what health care providers serve these communities, what gaps in access to care may exist, and if local stakeholders can leverage the school-based health program model to partner to address those gaps,” she says.

School-based health programs are generally supported by health care providers such as federally qualified health centers, non-profit/community-based organizations, hospitals, community/mental health centers and local health departments who partner with schools.

According to the data, more than half of early education and elementary schools have access to school-based health programs. About 41% of middle schoolers and 37% of high schoolers can get these services.

Many of these programs also serve school district faculty and staff.

“Their access to school-based health programs can reduce the number of teacher absences and classroom interruptions. Thus, leading to better educational outcomes for our students,” says Barth.

School-based health programs are being planned for 39 school districts across 28 counties. More than 25% of these districts do not have any school-based health care programs.

“These new programs will fill in some of the gaps, particularly in the northwest. But significant gaps continue. More than half of these programs being planned are intending to offer mental and behavioral health and primary care/physical health services,” says Barth.

The Alliance’s Executive Director, Molly Ticknor, says the programs have become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know both the physical health and mental health needs of students have increased during COVID-19,” she says. “Having a physical health or mental health professional on site who is able to assess and help address those issues has allowed students to stay in school or continue their learning virtually.”

Click here to view the census data.

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