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Finding Solutions: Good Mental Health Can Save Children’s Lives
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Contributed by Kathy Minnich, School Social Worker, Northeastern School District, York, PA

In their book, Ethical Decision Making in School Mental Health, Raines and Dibble assert that 1 in 5 school-aged children would benefit from some form of mental health intervention; 70% of these children never receive this needed support. When something goes tragically wrong with young people in communities, we all scream, “WHERE WAS THE SCHOOL?” The “school” often times was right there, focusing efforts on educating the child, in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The missing link was the school employed mental health worker.

Recent school reform legislation is forcing educators to recognize the importance of emotion, motivation, and familial factors on student achievement, compelling schools to become the default providers of mental health services for our youth and families. When a child struggles academically, behaviorally, or emotionally, families inevitably turn to school personnel for direction. In many instances, the only contact that children and their families experience with a mental-health professional is through the school system.

We all recognize school systems are struggling to provide some of basic necessities for students. A well trained and licensed mental health professional in schools is just as important as a school nurse or teacher. If utilized properly, these workers can assist exponentially in the efforts to keep our children emotionally healthy, undeniably saving lives and local communities tens of thousands of dollars.

School social workers are unique in that they provide human services and mental-health services within an environment where the primary goals include the teaching. School social workers are highly trained and skilled professionals, similar to school counselors and school psychologists; however their focus is often on the external factors that impact children, such as the family.

York County is rich in community based resources. We have wonderful community partners and agencies skilled and ready to meet every need imaginable from clothing and food to mental health and parent education. The struggle for families at times can be navigating these complex systems. This is where school employed mental health workers come in. School social workers work with families of students to connect them to vital community resources.

About half of the school districts in York County already employ school social workers or like individuals: Northeastern, Southeastern, Central York, Spring Grove, York City, Southern, West Shore, and Red Lion. The children and families who receive these supports, when surveyed, recognize the extreme importance of having a consistent school employed person who can help them long-term with navigating and accessing services for their children.

Northeastern recently received a 2 million dollar grant in large part because of the efforts of the school social workers. This Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA) and is aimed at increasing the access and appropriate use of mental health services in the community by students, families, and staff. An effort to create a comprehensive and coordinated Multi-tiered system model of mental health support will be part of the work that an entire community and school team will be working towards. Additional efforts will focus appropriate data collection that shows programmatic outcomes. This approach can be replicated by school districts across the commonwealth to meet the social and emotional needs of all students.

Focusing efforts to educate the whole child taking into account the cognitive, physical, emotional, and mental health of our children goes a long way in creating and sustaining healthy communities. Our community resources and schools must work together to ensure that families and children have the knowledge and support to access appropriate mental health services when the needs arise.

Hats off to the school districts that have made this effort a priority by ensuring that your students and families have access to a person within your system who is trained in mental health service delivery. The efforts being expanded in Northeastern School District right now may provide a roadmap for other districts to follow so that every child in York County has access to a mental health provider in their own community who can point them in the right direction.

Kathy Minnich, PhD, LCSW is President of the York County Communities That Care and a resident of Conewago Township

York Daily Record, October 17, 2014  See Original Article  Link. 

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