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Critical Conversations with Dr. Barbara Staggers and Jevon Wilkes-Champions for Youth Mental Health

The Trust is honored to share the words, wisdom and lived experience of Dr. Barbara Staggers and Jevon Wilkes as we collectively pursue our vision of a mental health system centered on equity and justice.

Critical Conversations

The inspiration and foundation of California Children’s Trust

Dr. Barbara C. Staggers, CCT’s Senior Advisor on Adolescent Health for the California Children’s Trust, retired in 2019 as director of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital Oakland, where she also served as director of external affairs and community relations. Dr. Staggers is a national authority on adolescents at risk, urban youth, youth of color, violence, and health care issues of multicultural societies, and she founded the first school-based health center in the nation at Fremont High School in Oakland.

Last week the California School-Based Health Alliance honored Dr. Staggers, captured in this video, in a moving tribute to her trail-blazing career that mentored so many health care leaders and transformed the lives of so many young people.

Dr. Staggers and Alex recently sat down for a conversation about their 25 years of friendship and collaboration, and how Dr. Staggers’ work helped to inspire the work of the California Children’s Trust. Following is an excerpt of that conversation:

Alex: So let’s get down to it. What do adolescents need?

Dr. Staggers: Adolescents need someone who cares about them. You don’t like what they do all the time but you have to have love for them. You can’t have them question whether you care about them. Separate the behavior from the person. If we look at just the behavior, we make all the wrong assumptions. This is actually a really important way that racial bias shows up, and also why we have always struggled with the term “behavioral health.” Young people aren’t the choices they make. Often, all of the information they have to make choices with is either non-existent or bad.

Alex: What makes a school-based health center work?

Dr. Staggers: It has to be tailored to the needs of the community it’s in. You can’t skip that part. Even if you know what someone is going to say, you have to ask and listen. Everyone is important, and you can’t fake it.

Alex: Something is going on with kids. I know you have been in this work for a long time and seen a lot of young people dealing with difficult circumstances. You know the data we cite at The Trust. What do you think is going on?

Dr. Staggers: Young people feel helpless and hopeless. And they seem to know it in new and deeper ways. I think it’s a combination of factors as is always the case, but the solution is still relationship. If you feel like there is nobody out there you can feel grounded with, where do you go? When you feel like there’s not any hope, and you aren’t worth anything, it’s easy to kill yourself or take another life.

Read the full interview to see how Dr. Staggers has shaped CCT to address the youth mental health crisis.

Listen to Our Youth: We Don't Have Time to Spare

Jevon Wilkes is the Executive Director of California Coalition for Youth and Director of Youth Engagement at The California Children’s Trust. In the following excerpt from his recent op-ed, Jevon builds on Dr. Staggers’ call to listen to youth with your head and heart to hear the real solutions to their pain. Then take action.

As everyone knows, we are in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Here in California, over 14,000 unaccompanied youth, many of whom are parenting children of their own, were experiencing homelessness prior to the pandemic. In addition, approximately 260,000 students, 60,000 foster youth, and hundreds of youth soon to exit the juvenile justice system are also at risk of homelessness and a lifetime of hardship. Their risk for taking their own life by suicide is high.

So now more than ever, we need to do more than simply ask young people experiencing complex trauma and at great risk for a range of negative outcomes to tell their stories yet again. I have shared my own story and been an ally to many more who offer their own. It is simply not enough to hold hearings, create task forces, and launch planning processes.

We know their stories. We have heard their heartache. We have seen their pain. What we haven’t done is act on what they have told us.
We know what they need and we know what we need to do.  

Read the full op-ed for the actions CCT is taking and how you can get involved.

Delivering What Youth Need: Expanding the Availability of School-Based Services

CCT has been actively working with DHCS and CDE on SB75: Medi-Cal for Students Workgroup to explore systems change strategies to address how schools access Medi-Cal funding.

The workgroup just released the first progress report on October 1, 2020. The interim report accurately details the many challenges facing school districts in accessing MediCal under their own reimbursement program (LEA MAA/BOP), and the challenges schools face in partnering with Managed Care Organizations, Mental Health Plans, and Regional Centers.

A culture of fragmentation and lack of coordination, both at the local level and between state and county level systems, is the essential takeaway from the detailed report.

We are working closely with West Ed and state leadership to advocate strongly for detailed and specific solutions that:

1) Increase the role and function of MCO (Health Plans) in school-based services.

2) Fundamentally reform The LEA BOP and SMAA program by adding a supplemental payment program.

3) Reform EPSDT specialty MHP claiming methodology to encourage braided funding solutions.


To learn more about navigating this complex landscape to ensure students receive federally entitled funds, read the Practical Guide for Financing Social, Emotional, and Mental Health in Schools, released in partnership with Breaking Barriers in August 2020.

Upcoming Events

State Performance Plan Technical Assistance Project (SPP-TAP)
10/19 at 2 pm, join us for an interview with two of California's leading advocates in children's mental health and well-being, Alex Briscoe and Elizabeth Estes. They will discuss strategies that districts can employ to meet the needs of California's students, particularly those who are over-identified for special education and who are receiving disproportionate disciplinary actions, as well as those in poverty and who have experienced trauma. Register.

News Conference on Youth Suicide Prevention with Assemblymember James C. Ramos
10/21 at 9:30 am tune into this conference where Alex, along with the California Alliance and other partners, will speak on behalf of AB 2112, which authorizes creation of a Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention within the Department of Public Health, and the possibilities it creates to address youth suicide prevention. Join on Facebook Live: facebook.com/AsmJamesRamos/

Breaking Barriers Interagency Symposium, 2020
11/12 at 9:05 am, Jevon Wilkes, CCT Director of Youth Engagement, joins other experts to share and discuss Stories from the Field: Parents and Community in Action. Register.

11/19 at 10:45 am Alex Briscoe, CCT Principal, will present a deep dive into the Practical Guide for Financing Social, Emotional, and Mental Health in Schools, released in partnership with Breaking Barriers in August 2020. Register.

Check Out Mental Health News on the CCT Website

CCT curates articles related to youth mental health on the Mental Health in the News page of our website. Here are some highlights:  

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