Many students come to school each day struggling with various stressors that can affect their mental health—exposure to community violence, death of a loved one, parental divorce, bullying, homelessness or poverty—and they are more likely to seek help if these services are available in schools.
However, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor and many districts report staffing ratios of only one school psychologist to more than 2,000 students.
These poor staffing levels mean that many districts go without prevention and early intervention services that effectively link mental health, school climate, school safety and academics instruction.
Access to school-based mental health services is important because it directly improves students’ physical and psychological safety, academic performance and social–emotional learning.
And, comprehensive mental and behavioral health services are most effective when they are embedded within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework.
School psychologists and other school-employed mental health professionals can effectively provide mental and behavioral health services within the context of learning and can support administrators and teachers by providing consultation and recommending school and classroom interventions that support positive behavior, mental wellness and learning.
These professionals also work with parents and families so they may effectively support their child at home and improve effective communication and collaboration among school professionals.
This framework enables schools to:
- Promote wellness
- Identify and address problems early before they escalate
- Deliver targeted interventions for specific students or groups of students
To ensure high-quality service delivery and effectiveness, schools must have adequate staffing levels of school-employed mental health professionals (e.g., school psychologists, school counselors and school social workers).
Many districts have turned to the community for mental health support and while partnerships with community mental health agencies/providers can provide important resources for individual students with significant needs, these partnerships must enhance—not substitute—existing comprehensive school mental health services and school employed mental health providers.
Fortunately, the new bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) recognizes the importance of school mental health services, and the role of families in ensuring their effectiveness. Specifically the bill, (now called Every Student Succeeds Act) has provisions that:
- Encourages local education agencies to implement multi-tiered systems of support to address student learning and mental health.
- Authorizes funds for activities to improve school climate, school safety and address bullying and harassment. Supporting student mental health is a key component of these initiatives.
- Allows for staff development to help school and community personnel identify and support children with trauma history.
- Authorizes funds to design and implement evidence based mental health awareness training programs so that adults know how to identify the signs of mental illness and know how to connect students and families to needed support.
- Authorizes funds to help schools, in collaboration with school employed mental health professionals, develop partnerships with community agencies to help meet the mental health needs of children.
- Authorizes funds for activities to strengthen parent and community engagement to ensure safe, healthy and supportive school environments
Rigorous curriculum, excellent teachers and effective educators are critical to student and school success, but they alone are not enough. Schools must engage in efforts to promote mental wellness and identify and support those students struggling with mental health concerns and mental illness.
Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, Ph.D, NCSP, is the director of government relations for the National Association of School Psychologists.
Update on the Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 by a vote of 359-64, Wednesday, Dec. 2. The bipartisan piece of legislation will go to the Senate and is expected to be voted on next week. If ESSA passes through the Senate, the president will likely sign the bill into law by the end of the year.