While California’s schoolchildren were looking forward to winter break last month, the federal government made a major announcement: 31 school-based health centers in the state received more than $14.3 million in grants. Since 2011, the government has invested nearly $200 million in school health, and California has received more than $30 million – the most funding received by any state.
This support is the right investment at the right time. It has arrived as many of California’s communities are reeling from the deepest economic downturn in decades. Without this support, many of the neediest children struggle to get health care.
School-based health centers — primary care clinics located on school campuses that provide a range of services to students and sometimes their family members — are becoming an essential part of the safety net. Some focus on basic screenings and check-ups; while others offer mental health services, dental care, and health education. All school-based health centers share the simple notion that putting health care where kids are—in school—is effective and keeps kids healthy, in class, and learning.
The reality of children’s health care today is that families’ access is impeded by transportation, work schedules, and unfamiliar systems. For adolescents, uncertainty and fear can prohibit them from receiving critical services, like mental health care or contraception. Access to care in a convenient and familiar setting is something we should expect for all children as part of a reformed, cost-effective health care system.
There are now 200 school-based health centers in California that serve more than 205,000 children. Remarkably, despite on-going budget woes, schools have allocated space for new health centers and jumped at the chance to apply for grants in the Affordable Care Act to build new centers. Community health centers have stepped up as willing partners to bring their services to children on campus.
However, this growth is primarily driven by local communities. While federal support has seeded many centers, California has no dedicated state funding for ongoing operations.
We need more support from Washington and Sacramento to sustain and build upon the efforts of local communities that are demanding school-based health centers. The funding received through 2012 brings quality health care and support to some of the students who need it most in California. But we need more support to reach all our state’s children today and tomorrow.
Serena Clayton, PhD, is the Executive Director of the California School Health Centers Association, which is the statewide organization leading the movement to put health care where kids are — in schools. Learn more about school-based health centers at www.schoolhealthcenters.org and register to attend Vision & Voice for Healthy Students – the statewide conference for children’s health stakeholders – in Long Beach March 14-15.