Snohomish County announces $6.5 million for youth mental health

The new plan includes $3.2 million to support vulnerable youth and $1.5 million for after school care.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (Snohomish County)

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers (Snohomish County)

EVERETT — After the pandemic struck a blow to young people’s mental health, Snohomish County is investing in building it up again.

On Wednesday, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced $6.5 million in new funding for youth mental health and laid out a broad spending plan.

The new plan splits the investment into five categories based on recommendations from the county’s Office of Recovery and Resilience.

The largest portion, $3.2 million, will aim to support vulnerable youth. That means both contributing to existing mental health services and investing in “alternative strategies to provide mental health and wellness,” given a lack of certified or licensed mental health professionals, according to the county.

Another $1.5 million will go to after-school care through partnerships with the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club.

The money builds on a previous $2.9 million investment in tuition subsidies and behavioral health support at those organizations last year. Together, the two groups make up about 80 percent of the county’s after school care, the spending plan estimates.

Youth homelessness is another target. The Onward Learning program, which supports students transitioning from high school to higher education with housing and other needs, will receive $1.2 million from the county.

The program is a partnership between youth homelessness nonprofit Cocoon House, Everett Community College, Edmonds College, Housing Hope and Everett Public Schools.

A smaller pot, $500,000, is dedicated to youth career exploration. That could mean internships, job shadowing, career fairs and workshops.

“We’re trying to help youth see a path forward, see a bright future for them,” said Chrissie Grover-Roybal, deputy director of the Office of Recovery and Resilience. “And part of that is imagining what you’re going to be doing as a career … So they’ve got something that they’re moving forward to.”

The final $100,000 will be used to create a “sensory calming room” for children who, for whatever reason, need to appear in court.

The room will be part of the Office of the Court Appointed Special Advocate, which advocates for children in custody cases.

The program’s division manager, Joelle Kelly, wrote in an email the room would provide a “multi-sensory environment” for children feeling overwhelmed.

It’ll also be a place “where children and youth will be able to retreat for comfort in situations when they would otherwise experience fear, anxiety, and the unknown,” she wrote.

The room is still “in the early planning stages,” but could contain “an interactive floor projection, fiber optic clouds, bubble towers, infinity panels, and a sitting nook,” Kelly added.

Moving forward, the Office of Recovery and Resilience will be partnering with the staff from the county’s Human Services Department to develop a more detailed spending plan. For the most part, the plan released this week doesn’t name specific organizations that will be getting money.

“It’s likely that different components of the plan will come online at different times,” Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for the Office of Recovery and Resilience, wrote in an email, “and some contracts may be executed starting in July.”

By the end of 2023, the county plans to have given out most of the money.

The county’s share of American Rescue Plan Act money will fund the new investment. The act, known as ARPA, sent emergency funds to local governments in response to the pandemic. It passed in 2021. Snohomish County got $160 million in total.

Recipients of that money must decide how to spend it by the end of 2024 and use it by the end of 2026.

The county will be reporting ARPA expenditures and outcome data to the U.S. Treasury every quarter.

The Office of Recovery and Resilience guides the county’s ARPA spending.

As the office did community outreach, “there was this very pervasive feeling that the pandemic hit youth and young people in a way that … was different than the way that it hit adults,” Grover-Roybal said. “You’re looking at some middle schoolers that spent two out of three years doing remote school at a time when your brain is developing.”

The newest county-wide Community Health Assessment, released by the county health department last week, showed a marked decline in the mental well-being of young people between eighth and 12th grade.

In a five year period, the amount of those students reporting anxiety symptoms rose by 10 percentage points to over one in three. The portion reporting symptoms of depression rose to almost 40%.

The assessment drew on data from the state’s Healthy Youth Survey, which takes place every two years. The most recent survey was in 2021.

High school dropout rates for certain groups of students have also increased since the start of the pandemic.

According to the county, dropout rates for young people who are homeless, learning English or in the foster care system went up by 20%, 25% and 40%, respectively, between 2019 and 2022.

In May, the county announced an $8 million investment in five projects that treat mental and behavioral health. Those projects include expanding behavioral health services in Edmonds schools, a new facility to serve pregnant women and mothers who are dependent on opioids and space for mental health care at Housing Hope’s child development center in Everett.

A “transparency dashboard” containing information about the county’s pandemic recovery funding allocations, budgets and program outcomes, among other topics, is set to go live early this week.

The dashboard will help residents learn how the county’s money is spent, Nyland said. “But to me, what’s more interesting is the impacts of those dollars, who we’re serving and how we’re serving them.”

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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