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School Counselor Listening to Sad Child
Kelsey Reyes's picture

Our school systems should be environments that encourage children to grow in both their mental and emotional abilities. Safe school settings should inspire children to express themselves and grow. 

Four years ago, the pandemic exacerbated the mental and emotional crisis among our young people, forever changing the school landscape. Youth are experiencing anxiety, depression, and worse, are struggling with mental health challenges that can be incredibly overwhelming for parents and educators to navigate. 

School counselors, nurses, social workers, and school psychologists are often the first to see children who are sick, stressed, or traumatized — particularly in low-income school districts. 

The benefits of investing in school mental health support are so clear that it would make sense for school boards, principals, government leaders, and elected officials to use every available resource to increase access to school-based health and mental health professionals. 

Instead, funding for police in schools has been on the rise on top of a national youth mental health crisis, while schools continue to face critical shortages of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers.

Even schools offering some mental health services are still terribly understaffed. 

Schools are recommended to have at least one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students, at least one nurse per 750 students, and one psychologist for every 700 students. 

Yet, 1.7 million students are in schools with police but no counselors, 10 million students are in schools with police but no social workers, and 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.  Many states reported two to three times as many police officers in schools as social workers, and five states reported more police officers in schools than nurses. This is unacceptable.[1] 

The Counseling Not Criminalization Act is an important step towards shifting resources away from practices that harm and push kids out of school into what helps students thrive, keeps schools safe, and ends the criminalization of kids in schools. The bill includes: 

  • A prohibition on the use of federal funds for police in schools in addition to supporting school districts in transitioning away from police in schools. 

  • The establishment of a $5 billion grant program for school districts to replace law enforcement in schools with personnel and services that support mental health and trauma-informed services, as well as reforms to school safety and disciplinary policies with evidence-based practices. 

  • Districts must ensure that they will terminate any existing contract with local law enforcement by the time they receive grant funding and cannot establish a new contract throughout the grant. The grants can be used for hiring or training school counselors, school psychologists, nurses, social workers, or other specialists with expertise in school climate and behavior.

  • The implementation of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports, or other trauma-informed services.

  • The provision of professional development to educators to prevent, mitigate, and provide services to students to reduce the effects of trauma and foster safe and stable learning environments.

It is time to step up for our children and demand mental health services in schools. To ignore the mental health crisis amoungst our young people is detrimental to the collective future of America. The Counseling Not Criminalization Act provides not brainer, practical solutions that encourage safe learning environments. 

[1] More than 30,000 children under age 10 have been arrested in the US since 2013: FBI - ABC News

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