Tulsa receives nearly $13 million in federal grants to expand mental health services for children and youth

October 12, 2023

Tulsa is the recent recipient of nearly $13 million in federal funding to enhance the community’s mental health system for children and their families. The City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools each received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to meet rising levels of mental health need among children and youth. Taken together, the grants are the largest amount of competitive federal funding for children’s mental health ever directed to the Tulsa community.

The grants will fund new initiatives that deliver critical behavioral health services to children and youth. The City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools will each coordinate an initiative that involves a broad network of community partners, with funding available to behavioral health care providers to offer new services and supports to families. The City of Tulsa’s grant also includes matched contributions from community partners, bringing the total investment in new mental health services for children and their families to more than $16 million.

Healthy Minds Policy Initiative provided technical assistance and convened area stakeholders to apply for the grants, which build on the findings and recommendations of its research on Tulsa children’s mental health. In a recent analysis, Healthy Minds found that fewer than half of Tulsa children and youth who were estimated to have serious emotional disturbances received state-funded behavioral health services for their disorders in fiscal year 2021.

“This new federal funding sends a powerful message: the Tulsa community is committed to empowering families and improving the mental well-being of kids. Tulsa saw a 117% increase in psychiatric inpatient admissions for children and youth during the pandemic, and 15% of Tulsa youth ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode last year. At a time of unprecedented youth mental health need in our city, we commend the leadership of Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson and their teams on this issue.”

Zack Stoycoff, Healthy Minds executive director

The City of Tulsa will receive nearly $4 million over four years through a SAMHSA System of Care grant. This funding will support a coordinated initiative to better align the availability of behavioral health services in the community with the needs of Tulsa-area children and youth who have or are at risk for developing severe emotional disturbances or serious mental illness. The initiative will also strengthen the capacity of behavioral health care providers and social service agencies to deliver all essential elements of a crisis response continuum for children and youth – someone to call, someone to respond and a safe place to be. By leveraging collaborative partnerships to increase Tulsa’s investment in children’s mental health, the project aligns with the city’s Resilient Tulsa strategy of decreasing the racial gap in life expectancy.

“We must continue to invest in our youth if we want to make Tulsa the best city it can be for future generations,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “Today’s announcement is a great reminder to us all that finding solutions to some of our most challenging mental health problems are not solved by one single action or entity, but through the actions of many.”

Separately, Tulsa Public Schools will receive roughly $9 million over five years through SAMHSA’s Project AWARE grant program. With support from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, TPS and Healthy Minds have collaborated for more than a year on increasing the district’s capacity to deliver high-quality mental health services to students. Funding from the grant will be used to expand and scale up existing partnerships between the district and providers of treatment and prevention services, as well as establish new partnerships to address gaps in services and provide the necessary resources for students and their families to thrive.

“At Tulsa Public Schools, we are responsive to our students’ needs. Caring for youth mental health is essential to fostering safe, supportive, and joyful learning environments,” said Dr. Ebony Johnson, interim superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools. “The grants announced today help unite and equip a group of vital partners to support this work – this is about engaging the entire community in our students’ growth and success.”

Both initiatives will involve numerous partners and stakeholders, representing a true community-wide approach that benefits families in all parts of the city.

“We are delighted to partner with the City of Tulsa, Healthy Minds Policy Initiative and other like-minded community organizations,” said Oklahoma Family Network Executive Director Joni Bruce. “Families of children and youth with behavioral health needs frequently are unable to find support for themselves or their children, or when they do find services, do not have a voice in the way care is provided. By listening to Tulsa-area families, Oklahoma Family Network will identify barriers to care and build confidence in caregivers, thereby strengthening the ability of these projects to help children lead happy, hope-filled lives.” 

Healthy Minds’ coordination of Tulsa-area stakeholders on improving mental health outcomes for children and youth is funded by The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, the Tulsa Area United Way, and through a grant from the American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids program.

“The youth mental health crisis is one of the defining challenges of our time,” said Stoycoff. “Through persistence and collaboration, our community can overcome this challenge and ensure bright futures for our children.”