The mental health of students requires an extensive effort
According to state and local officials, more school-age children sought psychological support than they returned to face-to-face learning this school year.
A report recently published on the Connecticut Mirror shows that throughout the pandemic, an influx of students were experiencing psychiatric crises and seeking help. At a panel discussion on child mental health in October, Connecticut Children’s chief behavioral health officer Howard Sovronsky called this new wave of distress “a mental health pandemic” in which excessive numbers of children are being taken to the emergency room.
Efforts to improve the mental health of children in Connecticut were underway before schools closed in March 2020, but state and county officials are calling for more resources on this issue, which some say will continue to grow.
Dealing with children’s mental health was one of many topics that lawmakers prioritized during the 2021 legislature, and it is expected to remain a hot topic for the 2022 session.
One of the state’s Department of Education’s priorities is to use the additional $ 1.1 billion in federal aid for K-12 schools that the state is receiving through the American Rescue Plan for additional socio-emotional support. The state budget also increases total school aid by $ 46.4 million, an increase of 2.2%, the majority of which is directed to low-income districts.
Finding out what children need and where to best invest the money is one of the first tasks.
In March, the state Department of Education announced a partnership with Aperture Education to introduce a social and emotional learning assessment for K-12 schools called the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment System. This will help measure the students’ emotional wellbeing. In a 60-second screening, the social and emotional competence of a student is examined. Students who show they need more support are given a five-minute follow-up and help find solutions.
The state will provide the free DESSA system to almost 100 districts in the 2021-22 school year and almost 200 districts in the following school year.
“[Mental health] is one of the focus areas around working with students on socio-emotional situations of students and on-going training of school districts so that they have the tools to support families and students during the pandemic, “said John Frassinelli, director for School health, nutrition, family services, and adult education with the State Department of Education.
Educators and other experts suggested that these improvements provide families with options beyond the emergency room and options that are likely to serve them better.
Ben Chaback, school social worker at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, said it was important for families to know who to turn to at their child’s school, which is often the first port of call.
Still, staffing levels are a problem in some districts and mental health professionals are concerned about whether schools have enough staff to meet student needs.
“Some schools have only one staff member in the schools or one social worker with 800 children in a school,” said Steve Wanczyk-Karp, executive director of Connecticut’s National Association of Social Workers.
These many coordinated efforts seem well thought out to address the issues and develop useful strategies that will help students feel better and do better in school and in general. The budget allocated to this point is substantial and some budget may be allocated to address staffing problems – programs cannot be successfully implemented without sufficient staff.
That the pandemic has had an impact on mental health is well documented. Realizing that students and families need additional support and ensuring that resources are available, easily accessible, and meaningful are primary goals.
The ongoing efforts can help children cope with it in the short term and can have positive long-term effects on their educational success and general well-being.