Social workers to help address student mental health needs

Social workers to help address student mental health needs

(N.Y.) Every school in New York will be required to have a certified school social worker to address the mental health needs of students, under legislation announced this week.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Félix W. Ortiz, D-Kings, said it will help ease the burden on teachers to act as educators and mental health experts, and help to limit the long-term ramifications of bullying and discrimination directed at minority groups.

“Certified social workers are the ‘gatekeepers’ for our youth, adolescents, and young adults’ education to help guide their future successes,” Ortiz said in a statement. “Many of these students face problems that require professional help. Early intervention is the most effective way to prevent difficulties later in life.”

District leaders and policymakers throughout the country have acknowledged a growing need for mental health awareness in school settings. Suicide has become the second-leading cause of death among adolescents age 12 to 17 in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And mental disorders among children have emerged as a major public health issue in the U.S. that impacts as much of 20 percent of the K-12 population each year—or about 10 million children—according to estimates from the National Institute of Mental Health

In New York, school administrators have signaled they have found it difficult to keep pace with the mental health needs of students as the number of bullying and violent school incidents continue to grow. Last year’s annual finance survey conducted by the New York State Council of School Superintendents showed many districts scored the increasing mental health needs of youth as an alarming top priority.

According the bill’s author, ensuring that all elementary, middle and high schools have a social worker on staff will mean students of all ages are provided the mental and emotional health services they need by professionals. Although as introduced, the bill does not provide for any additional funding to help districts hire school social workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal for 2018-19, however, does include $250,000 to create enhanced mental health support grants for community schools, as well as $894,000 for the support of school-based programs for the early detection and prevention of school adjustment and learning problems experienced by children in the primary grades. Neither addresses the cost of school social workers.

The bill has received support from organizations including the New York State chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the New York School Social Workers’ Association.

Sen. Jesse Hamilton, D-Brooklyn, sponsor of an identical bill introduced in the State Senate, said social workers have the experience to help resolve children’s unmet needs, which in turn helps them thrive in the classroom.

“Mental health, emotional health and wellness all matter to educating our children,” Hamilton said in a statement. “A parent fearing eviction, violence at home or in the community, any number of circumstances can impact a child’s ability to learn. School social workers have the expertise to help children, help families, and help our communities address these needs.”