Capitol View on Kids: The Latest from Washington on Children and Families

House Subcommittee Examines Current Mental Health Services in Schools

The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education  conducted a hearing on the current status of mental health services provided in the nation’s schools.

The subcommittee heard from Pamela Hyde, the administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), and Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hyde described the current need, pointing out that less than one in five children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. She also said that half of all lifetime cases of mental and substance abuse disorders begin by age 14 and that three-fourths begin by age 24.

She then outlined some of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget proposals, first included in the Administration’s gun violence package.  These include:

An initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), that will include $15 million for training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults, including how to encourage adolescents and families experiencing problems to seek treatment. This initiative will also include a separate $40 million to help states and school districts work with community leaders, law enforcement, mental health agencies, and families to assure that students are referred to and receive services.

An initiative that will provide $25 million to target individuals ages 16 to 25 at high risk for mental illness.  Funding will be for innovative state-based strategies that will address the needs of those in this age group that have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Training more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults. This proposal will provide $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals.

Assistant Secretary Delisle used her testimony to highlight current programs in the Department of Education and give some preview of upcoming proposals. Delisle pointed out research, such as Center for Disease Control (CDC) data that 16 percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2011, and almost 8 percent actually attempted it.

She highlighted the administration’s joint departmental (hers and the Justice Department) efforts to focus attention on the linkages between children’s exposure to violence and their mental and emotional wellness.

Delisle pointed out part of the challenge when she said that children who have experienced victimization and trauma often have cognitive, physical, social, and emotional needs that may or may not meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder but still must be addressed in order for them to be successful in school, at home and in the community. In addition she said that the American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of 250 students to every counselor, but that the 2010 student to counselor ratio is approximately 450 to 1 and that only five states maintain ratios under 300 to 1.

The upcoming budget will include a Now is the Time initiative that will include a $50 million proposal to help schools create safer and more nurturing school climates. Grants would be made to  assist schools in the use of evidence-based programs to address problem behaviors such as bullying and harassment, and intervene positively. There will also be proposals to implement high quality emergency management plans for schools, as well as proposals to address comprehensive school safety programs.

Subcommittee members appeared supportive of Hyde and Delisle’s recommendations. Some questioned whether or not teacher training would be duplicative (the witnesses said they would not). Others asked about the protection of privacy in regard to health records, and related issues such as how to address school bullying, school violence and use of medication.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) asked Hyde about the use of psychotropic prescription drugs for children in foster care. Hyde said that they working closely with the Administration for Children and Families, also part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to address the problem and to assure that best practice in prescription medication was being used for this population.

Also in this week’s edition of Capitol View on Kids

  • Sequestration cuts become official in deal on 2013 spending.
  • Center for American Progress makes case for more gun violence research
  • Pediatricians support adoptions by gay parents

John Sciamanna, who writes Capitol View on Kids, is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation. Complete copies of the newsletter Capitol View on Kids are available through membership in the National Foster Care Coalition (www.nationalfostercare.org ) or the National Child Abuse Coalition (www.nationalchildabuse.org ).

For more information on either coalition, email: john.sciamanna962@gmail.com

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1115 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.