Op-Ed: BUSD takes the lead on mental health

For too many children, the interrelationship between mental health problems and poor academic outcomes is a very real struggle. Their struggle is reflected in limited educational progress from their entry into school through their secondary school years.

The worst of any disability group are children with mental disorders. The Office of Special Education of the U.S. Department of Education has given students in this disability group priority status. However, students in this disability group are often overlooked, and, even when identified, access to appropriate and necessary services continues to be a problem.

The Yale Child Study Center conducted a national study to determine the ratio of children who have exhibited some form of mental health problem. The finding of this study suggests that every year, one out of five children struggles with a mental health condition.

More than 50% of those children receive no treatment.

The role of schools in identifying children with mental health problems is particularly critical. Once a child is identified as having, or is at risk of having, a mental health problem, an intervention can be made to prevent or treat the problem.Behavioral difficulties emerge early, and rates for expulsion from preschool due to inappropriate behavior exceed that of children in grades 1-12.

A possible solution to this problem is the Mental Health in Schools Act. Grace Napolitano, the representative for California’s 32nd congressional district, introduced the Mental Health in Schools Act, which is now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

The purpose of the Mental Health in School Act is to identify students suffering with mental health issues and provide programs designed to help them succeed academically. Additionally, the Mental Health in Schools Act would spare these children from a multitude of negative outcomes associated with behavioral and mental health disorders.

Currently there are some school districts concerned about mental health in schools; for example, the Burbank Unified School District. According to Steve Ferguson, a member of the Burbank school board, the local district began to address this problem at the end of the 20th century.

Burbank has partnered with the Family Services Agency of Burbank. This partnership allows students in the BUSD to receive free mental health services. The school board is in the process of seeking funding to expand mental health services to include a suicide prevention program.

Burbank receives funding from the state to provide mental health services. Developing mental health programs to assist students with mental health issues is a priority.

Burbank provides a model demonstrating that a school district can provide mental health services to students. Unfortunately, not all school districts within the United States use this model. Passage of the Mental Health in Schools Act would provide all schools with funds to implement them and help students with mental health problems succeed academically.

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MARK LA POINTE is a graduate student with the University of Southern California School of Social Work. He can be reached at mrlapoin@usc.edu.

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