After Parkland, school officials push for mental health services

By Nick Niedzwiadek and Keshia Clukey

03/05/2018 05:11 AM EDT

ALBANY — Mental health advocates and education officials say New York’s
response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., should look beyond
security upgrades and include additional support for mental health services.

They say that identifying and assisting young people with mental health
issues before they become a threat to themselves or others is just as
important as increased security and other law-enforcement issues.

“It has to be not just this or this or that, it’s the intersection of
everything,” said John Garruto of the New York Association of School
Psychologists. “Schools understanding the realities of what children are
going through is important.”

Finding money for what could prove to be an expensive expansion of school
services will be difficult at a time when the state is trying to close a
$4.4 billion budget shortfall. What’s more, Republican lawmakers have been
pushinhealthfund additional school resource officers.

It can also be much harder to quantify the outcomes of mental health
programs, thereby making it difficult to demonstrate the need for increased
funding.

“That’s not a number we can know, but there may be many times when we’ve
been successful with kids and saved lives,” Garruto said.

Mental health issues are one of the biggest challenges facing school
superintendents, said New York State Council of School Superintendents
Executive Director Charles Dedrick. “Kids are with us for a big part of the
day and we are very aware of the mental health issues that are out there.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, half of all chronic
mental health conditions begin by age 14, and three-quarters by age 24.

The council supports a proposal in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget
that includes $250,000 to create enhanced mental health support grants for
community schools, which provide wraparound social services in
predominantly low-income communities. The funding would be used to combat
violence and bullying and support social-emotional learning.

The New York State Association of School Business Officials is calling on
lawmakers to take the proposal a step further, providing aid for mental
health services for all schools, not just community schools.

“Security is one thing, but the social, mental well-being of students so
they don’t need security is the other part of the equation,” said NYSASBO
Executive Director Michael Borges.

Glenn Liebman, head of the Mental Health Association in New York state,
said it’s important to not conflate the issues of mental health and
violence, as people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims
of a crime than perpetrators, but addressing both will improve children’s
well being.

“It’s almost a cop-out to say mental health caused this issue,” he said.
But, he added, “we need more mental health services for youth and young
adults.”

He said a 2016 law requiring schools to add mental health to their
curriculum, which goes into effect July 1, will help teachers and students
to identify issues and link people to needed help before issues escalate.

“We by no means want them to be clinicians in the school,” he said. “What
we need to see is more resources dedicated to the community.”

Having a school social worker or psychologist present allows student to get
the help they need rather than losing time having to go outside of the
school system, said David Albert, the New York State School Boards
Association’s communications director. The association also supports
increasing state aid for school safety efforts.

“[It] really becomes a question of resources, because what ultimately we
would need to do is to be able to staff schools with the appropriate amount
of mental heath workers, school psychologists or social workers,” Albert
said. “I think that’s an important component … They may identify a
student as someone who is at risk.”

DJ Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization,
said he believes that increased funding — whether in schools or more formal
health care settings — must be targeted at those who need it the most if
the aim is to prevent mass murders like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School on Feb. 14 or countless smaller-scale tragedies.

“It is not identification [of mental illness] that’s the problem, it’s
delivering services,” he said.

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