Tackling Children’s Behavioral and Mental Health

Today, the UO officially launches The Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health, a bold new approach to addressing the behavioral and mental health care needs of Oregon’s children. 

Image of empty classroom and goal of Ballmer Institute

This article first appeared in Around the O on March 1st, 2022.

Today, the University of Oregon officially launches The Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health, a bold new approach to addressing the behavioral and mental health care needs of Oregon’s children. The Portland-based institute is made possible by a lead gift of more than $425 million from Connie and Steve Ballmer, co-founders of Ballmer Group Philanthropy.

The institute establishes a new national model for behavioral and mental health care by uniting the UO’s top-ranked research programs, Oregon public schools and families, and community support groups in the creation and delivery of intervention and treatment programs that can be part of the daily lives of K-12 students. The UO will propose a new degree program and launch a certificate program to empower a new workforce eager to meet children’s needs within schools and organizations.

“Connie and Steve Ballmer, who have already provided exceptional support and inspiration for children’s behavioral health, are now empowering the university to make immediate and lasting positive impacts on children’s behavioral and mental health,” said Michael H. Schill, University of Oregon president and professor of law. “A bold effort is needed to address the behavioral and mental health needs of our youth. This gift is monumental. It enables UO researchers and experts to build on a collective vision to develop innovative and scalable programs, and to address the need for a sustainable workforce that can work directly with our children.”

The commitment of more than $425 million allows the UO to chart a new path for higher education. “As a public research university, it is always important to reflect our broad role within the state and beyond,” said Patrick Phillips, UO provost and senior vice president. “We naturally celebrate our core mission of education and research, but here we have an unprecedented opportunity to build upon these strengths to have an incredible impact on the world.”

The Ballmers, through Ballmer Group Philanthropy, have a legacy of building partnerships that support our youth. “Right now, the need for behavioral health services across our country is at critical levels, and there is an opportunity to strengthen and enhance the behavioral health system so that it is set up to address every child’s needs - now and in the future,” said Connie Ballmer, who earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Oregon and served on its Board of Trustees from 2014 to 2021. “Steve and I are excited to help bring to life this institute, which can help strengthen talent and build partnerships to create long-lasting impact for Oregon’s kids and families.”

The Ballmer Institute will be based in Portland, the epicenter of Oregon’s crisis, and will partner with K-12 schools statewide beginning with Portland Public Schools. Portland Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said he believes this type of collaboration has tremendous implications for both young people and educators.

“The global pandemic has only amplified the mental and behavioral health needs of students here in Portland and across the country,” said Guerrero. “School districts are often ill-equipped to adequately address these barriers to learning. We have a responsibility to find innovative ways to support the holistic needs of our students and are excited for our groundbreaking partnership with the Ballmer Institute.”

Governor Kate Brown also endorses and supports this novel approach. “Oregon must take action to address the behavioral and mental health crisis that we are facing in communities across the entire state,” Brown said. “I am so pleased the Legislature has made a significant investment in resources, support and services. However, we need a workforce. And that’s where the Ballmer Institute steps up.”

The Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health at the University of Oregon will be the first of its kind and the most comprehensive effort undertaken by a U.S. university and its partners, creating a new model of care. Through the institute, the UO will:

  • Develop a new level of behavioral health practitioners through new undergraduate degree and certificate programs. The new degree program is subject to state approval.
  • Deliver science-based early detection, prevention, and treatment strategies directly into the lives of children and their families.
  • Accelerate the discovery and dissemination of new technologies and research informed by clinical context.
  • Provide scholarships through a $100 million endowment to graduate a new, diverse and culturally rich workforce prepared to work directly with those in need.

Early goals call for the Ballmer Institute to graduate annually, from the proposed bachelor’s degree program, at least 200 behavioral health practitioners prepared to bring their passion and unique skill set into Oregon’s public schools. The University of Oregon will also offer a certificate program for mid-career students to prepare and empower as many graduates as possible with community-based skills that can make an immediate and lasting impact.

Initial plans also call for more than 20 new faculty members who will collaborate continually to inform, strengthen, and expand the body of research in the field of children’s behavioral and mental health. While training students, the faculty members will also develop innovative programs and refine approaches in the education community.

The unique approach calls for enhanced public-private partnerships in which researchers will work in coordination with school districts’ behavioral health professionals, local agencies, prevention and digital behavioral health startups, and healthcare providers to deliver behavioral health wellness interventions into the daily lives of children.

In the coming days, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees is expected to review a purchase agreement for the former Concordia University campus in northeast Portland, which will be home to the new institute.

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