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South Carolina officials say number of school mental health counselors has doubled

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(The Center Square) — South Carolina officials say they have doubled the number of school-based mental health counselors available to serve Palmetto State children.

A September 2023 survey of South Carolina school districts found the number of school-based mental health counselors totaled 1,209, up from 600 in January 2022.

In 2022, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster ordered the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to examine the mental health services program in the state’s public schools. SCDHHS Director Robby Kerr responded with seven recommendations, including increased reimbursement for school-based mental health counselors through the state’s Healthy Connections Medicaid program.

SCDHHS also announced a $3.2 million grant in September 2022 to support the South Carolina School Behavioral Health Academy.

“This tremendous progress in improving access to vital services for our state’s children was achieved by adopting a collaborative approach between state agencies, local school districts and the private sector,” Kerr said in an announcement. “The emphasis on providing these services through our public schools is important as research from the South Carolina School Behavioral Health Academy shows children are 21 times more likely to access a mental health service through a school than in another setting.”

In this year’s State of the State, McMaster noted the ratio of counselors to students has increased from one for every 1,300 students in January 2022 to one for every 653 students in September 2023.

“In just the past two years, we have made significant progress in providing school-based mental health services to school-aged children,” McMaster said in an announcement. “With an ongoing mental health crisis, especially among our young people, it is critical that we continue to build upon these efforts and ensure mental health resources are available and accessible to our state’s children.”

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health included $750,000 in its fiscal 2022-23 Agency Budget Plan for school mental health. A spokesman for the governor confirmed to The Center Square that the governor’s fiscal 2025 did not include funding for additional counselors.

Last March, SCDHHS announced a $35 million grant program for Palmetto State hospitals to build specialized emergency departments and observational units for behavioral health.