OBJECTIVE: Given problems and disparities in the use of community-based mental health services for youth, school personnel have assumed frontline mental health service roles. To date, most research on school-based services has evaluated analog educational contexts with services implemented by highly trained study staff, and little is known about the effectiveness of school-based mental health services when implemented by school professionals.

METHOD: Random-effects meta-analytic procedures were used to synthesize effects of school-based mental health services for elementary school-age children delivered by school personnel and potential moderators of treatment response. Forty-three controlled trials evaluating 49,941 elementary school-age children met the selection criteria (mean grade 2.86, 60.3% boys).

RESULTS: Overall, school-based services demonstrated a small-to-medium effect (Hedges g = 0.39) in decreasing mental health problems, with the largest effects found for targeted intervention (Hedges g = 0.76), followed by selective prevention (Hedges g = 0.67), compared with universal prevention (Hedges g = 0.29). Mental health services integrated into students' academic instruction (Hedges g = 0.59), those targeting externalizing problems (Hedges g = 0.50), those incorporating contingency management (Hedges g = 0.57), and those implemented multiple times per week (Hedges g = 0.50) showed particularly strong effects.

CONCLUSION: Considering serious barriers precluding youth from accessing necessary mental health care, the present meta-analysis suggests child psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are wise to recognize the important role that school personnel, who are naturally in children's lives, can play in decreasing child mental health problems.