Making Mental Health a Priority
Nearly two years into this pandemic, we all understand the need for expanded mental health services for school-aged students. But the Ohio County Board of Education may have stumbled upon a real hurdle when it comes to understanding just how effective mental health services are in public schools — and that hurdle is the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Several Ohio County Schools’ counselors last week made a presentation to board of education members on the mental health services they offer students through the state’s Expanded School Mental Health Program.
The program is funded through a $120,000 DHHR grant and about another $30,000 in local funds. Students evaluated for mental health services are followed both at the local level and at the state level in areas such as behavioral referrals, attendance, suspension rates, and grades.
Board President David Croft asked the counselors how they gauge the program’s success. That provided an interesting response from Madison Elementary School counselor Jessica Watt, who noted the state holds and evaluates the data but has yet to provide specifics to local counselors on their efforts with individual students outside of they’re doing a “good job.”
“As much as the members of this board may support the concept of behavioral and mental health, it is always better to support a program that has a foundation that shows what it is doing,” Croft said. “I get it. That’s a slippery measure.”
Croft is exactly right: local counselors and administrators should be privy to this data to ensure they are best serving students in need.
And the need is there and it’s real, as we’ve learned. Along with COVID-19 and the havoc it wrought on many student’s social and emotional well-being, more children are dealing with family uncertainty, often living with grandparents or other family members, which brings on a whole host of additional problems.
Think, for a moment, of the emotional turmoil of that.
The DHHR needs to do a better job of providing data to school counselors to ensure their treatment plan is adequate for each student. One thing that simply cannot be allowed to happen is for better mental health support for children to fall through the cracks due to bureaucratic nonsense.
Some things are too important to be allowed to fail.
This is one of them.