City-funded Mobile Response Team, a program to provide children and youth with mental health services, will expand to help San Francisco Unified School District students and their families

City of San Francisco logoMayor London N. Breed today announced San Francisco is providing new mental health resources for San Francisco Unified School District students and their families who need behavioral health crisis support. The City is expanding the Mobile Response Team (MRT), which provides personalized mental health and wellness services for children and youth who are referred to the program, including in-person interventions during the pandemic. SFUSD students are now eligible for services from the Mobile Response Team, and additional staff and behavioral health clinicians will enable the program to serve approximately 80 additional students and families.

The expansion of the Mobile Response Team bolsters the School District’s ongoing efforts to help students cope with complex issues such as stress, trauma, suicide, bullying, depression, self-esteem, drug and alcohol use, sexual health, and relationships. The Mobile Response Team, operated by Seneca Family of Agencies, provides a non-police, age-appropriate response for children and youth experiencing behavioral health crises or in need of preventative care. When a child or youth is referred to the program, the MRT staff respond with a range of services, including crisis prevention, counseling, help developing short- and medium-term care plans, helping the family find long-term services, and coordinating the young person’s mental health care.

“For all of us, this has been a hard year on our mental health. But for young people who were already dealing with a lot of stress and mental health challenges before the pandemic, this year has been especially challenging,” said Mayor Breed. “Students have been without the support systems that they normally get at school, and while there have been mental health resources available online, we know that some situations require an in-person response. With this expansion, the School District now has another tool at their disposal to help students and their families, and the City stands ready to help however we can to safely reopen our schools to provide the education that our students deserve.”

Due to COVID-19, many SFUSD students have been unable to access in-person counseling and behavioral health services that are normally available at school. Since schools shifted to distance learning in March, the School District has transitioned many services to virtual formats, including social worker office hours and online meetings. SFUSD has made 118,000 wellness check calls since last spring. Of those families reached 77% of families shared they were doing “pretty good” or “great,” but about one in four families were not. The expansion of the Mobile Response Team will help the District reach students and families who would benefit from in-person mental health support.

“The City’s partnership with SF Unified School District is critical in ensuring the stability of our students and families during this time of crisis,” said Supervisor Myrna Melgar. “This is a clear example of what can be achieved when we work collaboratively to center the well-being of children in our response. I commend the providers who are adapting to this pandemic and hope that with this additional resource they will be better equipped to provide the early intervention needed for young people on a path to healing and recovery.”

“Even with innovative distance learning measures in place, the COVID-19 school closures have had an undeniably adverse impact on K-12 learning and student well-being, especially among low-income students and students of color who are experiencing increased rates of anxiety, depression, and other serious health conditions,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “It is critical that the City bolster its partnerships with SFUSD to ramp up the availability of emergency supports like Mobile Response Teams to help students and families navigate the challenging experience of distance learning.”

MRT’s services are available based on a referral system and in coordination with existing behavioral health programs, such as City’s Comprehensive Crisis Services (CCS) program, the Department of Public Health’s Family Mosaic Program or clinics, Edgewood’s youth Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU), or a primary care setting. With the expansion of the program, SFUSD social workers are now able to request assistance from MRT’s staff and trained behavioral health clinicians.

“The adults who work in our schools are often the first people children and youth turn to when they are in need of mental health services,” said SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. “Through school-based mental health and supportive services like case management and in-person services like MRT, we have a continuum of care available to students.  We want to ensure they get the support they need when they most need it.”

“We know that trauma-informed, early and sustained intervention is key to stabilizing children and youth in crisis,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health. “The San Francisco Department of Public Health has partnered with Seneca’s mobile response team for over a year, both referring clients and receiving referrals from the team for longer-term care and support. We look forward to our continued partnership as the team expands to serve more SFUSD students and families.”

The MRT provides initial assessment and crisis counseling via phone and if necessary, will meet youth and families in-person to non-lethal situations situation where the parent, guardian, school staff, or community health provider is unable to meet youth’s needs. The MRT then assess for safety risks and determines if linkage to a higher acuity care setting or emergency department is needed. The MRT stays involved in a family’s life for up to 60 days, collaborating on safety plans, and coordinating linkage to longer-term psychotherapy and support services. After the initial 60 days, clients are able to be re-referred at any point as long as eligibility criteria is met.

“It is extraordinarily frightening for a child to experience a mental health crisis and also very frightening for their families,” said Ken Berrick, Founder and CEO of Seneca Family of Agencies. “Too often we are responding to these emergencies in a manner that is traumatizing. The expansion of MRT to SFUSD students will build a system where children and youth in crisis are met with understanding and clinical expertise.”

“As a parent and guardian of an SFUSD student, safety for all has been my priority and concern. As a 25-year public safety crisis responder, sadly I have had to witness the aftermath of tragedy with our communities and their families. As a native of San Francisco, I want to be assured that our youth receive the utmost respect of care with equitable services and resources,” said community advocate Gaynorann Siataga. “This opportunity shows that our city entities as the Mayor’s Office, SFUSD, and DPH have heard our voices and are working together for the betterment of our communities! My heart is elated to support and be part of this historical movement that can bring along an effective solution for our communities in hopes it may provide further and sound support to our families.”

San Francisco’s MRT program started in 2019, providing services to 192 families with children and youth involved in the child welfare services of the Human Services Agency or youth involved with San Francisco’s Juvenile Probation Department. This is part of Mayor Breed’s continued commitment to supporting mental health in schools. In 2019, Mayor Breed directed $3.5 million in City funding over two years to provide trained staff to expand the School District’s Wellness Initiative and provide additional mental health services.

With the additional funding, the School District expanded mental health and wellness services by hiring one position social worker, counselor, wellness coach, or case manager at nine high-potential schools. These positions have continued providing virtual mental health and wellness services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These staff played critical roles in the District’s Student and Family Wellness Check-ins, where families have been contacted multiple times since the start of distance learning. These staff then assist families in accessing necessary resources, which could include mental health or basic needs including food, clothing, or rent assistance.

Seneca Family of Agencies provides the services for the Mobile Response Team. Founded in 1985, Seneca provide preventative services, which can divert trauma-impacted young people from experiencing further loss, crisis, and disruption to their school, family, or foster care placement. Seneca has provided mobile response services across all zip codes and regions in Contra Costa, Alameda, Monterey, and San Francisco counties. Over the past 20 years, Seneca has provided in-person mobile response services to more than 5,500 youth and families of diverse languages and ethnicities, in homes, schools, hospitals, and community locations.