County announces $6.5 million investment in youth mental health and wellness

Snohomish County is investing $6.5 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to expand mental health services for young people, County Executive Dave Somers announced Wednesday. This includes increasing the number of qualified mental health professionals, developing community-driven programs and addressing challenges faced by disproportionately impacted populations.

Addressing the impact COVID-19 had on young people was identified as a top community priority during the county’s pandemic recovery outreach, the county said in a news release announcing the allocation.

“There’s no denying that the pandemic took a significant toll on young people,” Somers said. “We’re seeing an increase in anxiety and disconnectedness among our youth, with highly vulnerable young people even more impacted. With these investments, we’re increasing the availability of mental health services that meet the diverse needs of our young people to help ensure they can access care where and when they need it.”

The statewide Healthy Youth Survey indicates that 10th and 12th graders in Snohomish County are experiencing significantly more anxiety compared to before the pandemic. Similarly, many more students are reporting they are unable to stop or control their worrying. Countywide high school dropout rates are similar overall to pre-pandemic rates. However, youth experiencing homelessness, youth who speak a language other than English at home, and youth in the foster care system have seen a 20%, 25% and 40% increase in the dropout rate when compared to 2019, respectively.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth in our community suffered unimaginable damage to their mental health and disruptions in their lives during an already challenging time,” said County Councill Chair Jared Mead, who represents the 4th District including Brier and Mountlake Terrace. “I am proud that Snohomish County is putting an emphasis on funding for supportive programs and activities for our youth to regain normalcy in their lives while prioritizing mental health.”

“Imagine trying to navigate through high school when you don’t even know where you’re going to sleep tonight? Or worrying about getting kicked out of your house just for being who you are?” said County Councilmember Strom Peterson, who represents the 3rd District including Edmonds, Lynnwood and Woodway. “Our kids are hurting and these investments will help stabilize and keep our kids healthy and engaged.”

The county said it will use this funding to enhance and expand existing mental health and wellness activities and invest in new strategies that do not rely on certificated or licensed mental health professionals. Focus populations for these efforts include LGBTQ+ youth, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth, and youth who are experiencing homelessness.

The spending plan breaks down as follows:

  • Supporting Vulnerable Youth, $3,200,000
  • CASA Sensory Room, $100,000
  • After School Behavioral Health Support, $1,500,000
  • Youth Career Exploration, $500,000
  • Onward Learning, $1,200,000

Descriptions of each program are available here.

Given the urgency of need in the community and ARPA’s compressed timeline, the county said it intends to distribute the vast majority of funding by the end of 2023.

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