One missing child's story
Only five out of the six day treatment kids in your group get off of the buses and enter the classroom. You’re wondering where seven year-old Donavan is. (Child's name changed to protect privacy.) No one from his school called to let you know he would not be there or that he may have missed the bus. His dad didn’t call to let you know Donavan was sick and would not be in day treatment today.
You start to wonder what is going on, so you head to your office to contact the school. Finally, you get in touch with his teacher who has informed you that she called an ambulance to take Donavan to the hospital because he became “deregulated and regressed back to being two years old, again.” Since his school district only has two school social workers available and neither one of them were at Donavan’s school at the time of the incident, and according to his teacher, “Teachers are not trained to deal with these types of episodes,” the school decided it would be best to call an ambulance and let “professionals handle him.”
The fact that there was no one available to help Donavan during his meltdown shows him that his school and his teachers cannot keep him safe. These types of fearful feelings intensify trauma symptoms and increase the likelihood of more mental health crises taking place. The big question then is: What are we doing to show these kids that school is a safe place and adults there can help?
According to research findings by the Congress, “…Low socioeconomic status and certain family risk factors…are highly correlated with poor educational outcomes, with a concentration of low-performing schools in low-income and under-served communities.”
Teachers and principals working for these schools are often tasked with dealing not only with the academic needs of a child, but also the social, emotional, and behavioral needs that require the services of a school social worker or psychologist. Studies have shown that children who have experienced trauma, abuse, and/or who are homeless or placed in foster care have high rates of being put in special education programs, dropping out of school, having discipline problems, acquiring poor academic skills, and struggling from behavioral disorders and emotional issues. Caregivers of low-income families are known to be less involved with their children’s school activities and helping them with school work due to lack of resources and their own mental health constraints than middle to upper-class family caregivers which can make children feel less connected to their school and less likely to succeed. It has been found that positive differences in the school environment are largely attributable to the presence of more resources.
Acts such as the “Increased Student Achievement Through Increased Support Act” and “School Social Workers Improving Student Success Act” are important to children’s mental health and therefore should be re-evaluated to be enacted for it is a step in the right direction to benefiting kids from low-income environments who are expected to be successful in school despite their everyday challenges.
Some may say that schools do not need extra support, but I firmly believe they do, and statistics don’t lie. More support equals a decrease in mental health problems which also means less crime and jail time in the future for these children and ultimately less money spent by taxpayers to help fund the problems that occur from prolonged mental illness. Prevention is the most effective way to help kids in need as well as help communities to save money in the long run.
To help support bills such as these, there are many different steps you can take:
1) Send a letter to your legislator(s) outlining reasons why you support mental health services in schools and the positive impacts they have on children and society as a whole;
2) Do your research on the issue and talk with family, friends & colleagues about the topic;
3) Attend rallies and seminars at the capitol related to mental health and children; and
4) Advocate in any way possible to help support children in need of mental health services.
The focus here is on preventing chronic mental illness that will impede children’s opportunities for success.
Brittany Nosal is currently interning at Washburn Center for Children, and doing a policy research project on the issue of the lack of school social workers and psychologists present in low-income educational institutions.