2016 Children’s Mental Health Report

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Conclusions

Despite the best efforts of so many devoted educators, children who struggle with mental health and learning disorders still face an array of serious challenges and obstacles in school. Most schools today are ill equipped to evaluate and provide or refer for treatment, and we face major problems with the way we mete out discipline and promote the school-to-prison pipeline. Nevertheless, there is a silver lining for a nation that has a history of advocating for children who face barriers to learning and where there is a general consensus regarding the need to allocate more resources among the political and educational communities. The tools to improve the school environment for all children are being developed, and our task is to bring these promising, evidence-based approaches to more schools across the nation.

Mental health in school means many things — from social-emotional competency to an atmosphere of respect to supports for children with learning disorders, ADHD, PTSD and more. The landscape of “mental health” in schools is fractured, but these different areas of concern mirror all the things Americans want school to do for their children. In the words of Robert Balfanz, an education reformer and director of the Everybody Graduates Center, the ideal is “to be able to say to any child, in any part of the United States, ‘Your schools will educate you, challenge you, care for you, support you, and graduate you ready to succeed in the world.’”

Schools have already made the effort to accommodate and encourage children facing different hurdles to learning and success: physical handicaps, for instance. The education reform movement in the United States has made great strides in transforming curricula and other aspects of the educational system. Social, emotional and behavioral health is the necessary next step for building better schools to nurture healthy brains and happy children. Now it is time for schools to make a change for children struggling with mental health disorders.

Schools must continue to innovate and integrate approaches to school-based mental health — bringing the systemic focus of programs like PBIS into closer alignment with intensive individualized interventions while encouraging developmental awareness through early screening and progress monitoring. Schools must become the prime driver behind improving the mental health of America’s children. But to do this, evidence-based practices must be adopted at a large scale, and partnerships between educators and mental health professionals from the policy level on down to the individual child must be encouraged.

Imagine the differences our schools could make for children if they supported programs like these, and if they were armed with the information they need to truly assess what is wrong and how to make it right. At last, we might have created a mental health safety net for all.