Following the tragedy in Newtown, President Obama outlined recommendations to reduce and prevent gun violence. He highlighted the need to provide students with greater access to mental health services. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in 10 children and adolescents suffers from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment, while only about one in three students who need treatment actually receive it.
Each year, thousands of social workers serve students in schools across the country, yet the distribution of social workers is uneven and inadequate. Some districts have a social worker to student ratio of as much as 1:400, which is nearly two times greater than the recommended maximum level of 1:250, per the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services. Professions such as school counselors or school psychologists experience the same issue. Due to these huge ratios, students often do not get the services they need.
On Jan. 18, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, chair of the congressional Social Work Caucus, introduced HR 320, the Student Support Act, as she has done since the 110th Congress. This bill aims to increase student access to mental health services by providing grants to states to hire additional school social workers, psychologists and counselors in order to reduce the student-to-provider ratio in elementary and secondary schools. This bill effectively addresses the shortage of mental health providers in schools and provides schools with flexibility to meet the mental health needs of their students.
Passage of HR 320 will make it possible for child-serving agencies to ensure that no child or adolescent with emotional or behavioral problems is cut off from receiving needed help. When at-risk children have access to the mental health services they need, our entire community benefits.
L. Louis Albert • St. Louis County
Executive director, Jewish Family & Children’s Service