By Brandon Stratford, Child Trends, July 28, 2020
Regardless of whether students return to school in person or via distance learning, education leaders and policymakers across the country must equip schools to address the social, emotional, and behavioral effects of the ongoing pandemic. To address these issues, many policymakers are turning to school-based mental health services as a key strategy for supporting student wellness. Although mental health services are a critical, often underfunded element of supporting the needs of students—particularly those who are experiencing trauma—we recommend that education leaders take a comprehensive approach that goes beyond mental health services as schools reopen.
Mental health treatment is most effective when delivered within a schoolwide, coordinated approach to supporting wellness. Several clinical interventions—delivered by school mental health professionals—have been demonstrated to be effective, including programs like Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), which has been adapted to meet the needs of diverse student populations. However, in many cases, there are more students who need services than resources to provide them.
While mental health services are a critical resource for students—more than half of youth across the country receiving mental health treatment receive it through their schools—the reality is that fewer than half of all schools report offering mental health treatment services, and the National Association of School Psychologists notes a shortage of qualified professionals. With most school districts bracing for budget cuts, it is hard to imagine that schools currently without mental health professionals will hire large numbers of practitioners anytime soon.