Safety of children in schools linked to mental health support | #schoolsaftey

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Ensuring the safety of our children within the walls of our educational institutions is paramount. Keeping our schools safe requires more than building security. Effective school safety efforts require a multidisciplinary approach, including comprehensive mental health services.

Students with untreated mental health conditions are more likely to engage in disruptive behaviors, aggression and even violence. Identification and intervention for children and adolescents in need of mental health services not only makes our schools safer but can also avert escalation of issues into adulthood. Unfortunately, the current shortage of school-based mental health providers is undermining school safety by limiting early intervention and prevention.

Early intervention and prevention

school safety
Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix

The power of early intervention cannot be overstated. Arizona’s universities are training school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers with the skill sets to engage in early intervention, but there are a limited number of openings and high costs in these graduate level training programs. Workforce shortages mean that school psychologists are overburdened with compliance duties and often can only react to students with the highest needs – school counselors are required to spend large amounts of time on administrative tasks and school social workers are not available on staff in many districts. The presence of more school-based mental health providers would reduce caseloads and allow these qualified professionals to engage in prevention and early intervention work, making our schools safer.

Academic success and safety

Mental health issues don’t just affect behavior; they have a profound impact on academic performance. Students grappling with mental health challenges often exhibit lower academic achievement, increased absenteeism and higher dropout rates. Appropriate mental health support can reverse these trends. A study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed that students who receive the necessary mental health assistance exhibit improved academic outcomes, including higher grades and reduced absenteeism.

Reducing the stigma

Reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues is also crucial. Stigmatization can deter individuals from seeking help, exacerbating their problems. Stigma remains a significant barrier to accessing mental health services, particularly for adolescents. By openly acknowledging the link between mental health and unsafe behavior and addressing it head-on, schools can contribute to changing the narrative surrounding mental health. Creating a safe and supportive environment where students are encouraged to seek help breaks down barriers to care.

Community and parental involvement

Promoting school safety through mental health support necessitates collaboration with the broader community and active involvement from parents. Research demonstrates that schools that engage in a partnership with parents and the community are better equipped to identify and support students with mental health needs and are more effective in addressing safety concerns. This collaborative approach creates a support network for students, ensuring a comprehensive approach to their mental well-being.

The role of school-based mental health services

A recent report from the Federal Commission on School Safety underscores the benefits of school-based mental health services, such as early intervention and reduced barriers to access. Schools that offer such services provide students with a safe and accessible space to discuss their needs and get the necessary support, thereby improving school safety and the overall well-being of students. Schools need increased access to school-based mental health professionals with reduced caseloads, so they can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time directly helping students thrive and be successful.

Every child deserves to feel safe at school. Ensuring school safety, however, is not just about security measures and policies; it’s about prioritizing the mental health of our students.

By identifying and addressing mental health challenges, we create a safer, more inclusive, and nurturing environment for our children. This approach benefits all of us: we make our schools safer, we improve academic outcomes and we create an educational and community environment that enhances the overall wellness of our youth into adulthood, including our most vulnerable students struggling with mental health needs.

Sen. Catherine Miranda is a Democrat representing Arizona Legislative District 11 in central and south Phoenix. 



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