What is the Behavioral Health & Wellness Department?
The Behavioral Health and Wellness (BH&W) Department at West Fargo Public Schools is a pioneering initiative established in August 2022. Originating from the re-alignment of positions within Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction, and grant-funded behavioral support, the department was created to address the increasing behavioral health needs of students. Housed at Horace High School due to space constraints at the district office, it marks the first department of its kind in North Dakota.
Recognizing the impact of the department's efforts, the district faced a growing demand for internal infrastructure to support learner and educator wellness initiatives. West Fargo became the first district in North Dakota to center a department around behavioral health and wellness, responding to the rising challenges exacerbated by the post-COVID era. The creation of the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) stands as the department's central vision. This framework aims to integrate school-based mental health services with positive behavioral supports, fostering collaboration with building and district educators. The ultimate goal is to establish a cohesive continuum of care that efficiently meets the behavioral health needs of learners and adapts to the district's growth.
The department of Behavioral Health and Student Wellness seeks to provide effective, coordinated, and collaborative support for the growing behavior and mental health needs of students and staff district wide. This department will support district-based intervention personnel and programs (PBIS, Person-Centered Planning, Trauma-Informed Care, Mental Health, Counselors, Social Workers, Behavior Analysts, and Coaches) as well as coordination with outside providers for additional behavioral health needs (Clinical Counseling, ABA Services, Medicaid services). These are critical prevention and intervention components of WFPS' Multi-Tiered System of support (MTSS) for behavioral health. By working together, this department and its community partners can leverage best practices and provide proactive and responsive support across the district.
To address the broken nature of existing mental health service systems for children, the department emphasizes the school environment as ideal for implementing universal interventions. The ISF aims to counter fragmentation and silos, aligning with research indicating that schools serve as the de facto mental health system for children. With over 70% of children receiving mental health services through schools (Barrett et al., 2017), the department's approach aligns with the broader need to bridge gaps in mental health support for children and youth.