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Program to embed mental health workers in early childhood classrooms launches in Spokane

little scholars.jpg
Rebecca White
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Little Scholars Development Center is one of three childcare sites that will have mental health workers in classrooms.

A new pilot program launching in three early learning centers across the greater Spokane area will embed mental health workers in classrooms.

Little Scholars Child Development Center is one of three childcare sites that will soon have mental health workers on site.

The program, funded by the Spokane County mental health sales tax, will pay for mental health workers to support children that may have trouble at home or other challenges.

Kerra Bower, is the owner of Little Scholars and creator of the pilot program, which was proposed through the advocacy group Spokane Alliance. She said the goal is to offer training to parents and teachers to equip them to handle trauma.

“For adults, we're starting to understand a lot more about our mental health and how trauma compounds,” she said. “And, it makes sense to me that we start at the foundation. If you’re talking about childhood trauma at 35, why not deal with them when you’re a child?”

She said starting a program now is especially important, because children born during or just before the pandemic spent the first few years of their lives in quarantine, and need support.

She said addressing childhood trauma early will help children succeed once they get into the school system.

“If we build this foundation correctly, then schools will need less,” she said. “If we do it right here, the schools won't half of the issues they're having currently because a lot of these issues are social, emotional.”

She says she hopes to have mental health professionals hired and working alongside teachers by mid-February.

Bower said she hopes to present results to Spokane County commissioners to ask for continued funding, and other local governments at the end of the year.

“The idea is that we'll be able to have enough data to warrant the county commissioners and the city council, and the Spokane Valley to all jump on board and say hey, this is something that we need and that we need to fund here,” she said.

The program is funded by a one-year Spokane County grant totaling roughly $316,500. The other early learning centers that will receive mental health professionals are Parkview Early Learning and a Bright Beginning.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.