Testimony on H.B. 6509: AAC School-Based Mental Health Clinics

Committee on Children

March 2, 2021

Submitted by: Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

The National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter, representing over 2,300 members supports H.B. 6509 as a most effective means of delivering mental health services to school age children.

According to the National Mental Health Association, less than 1 in 5 of the 12.5 million children in need of mental health services actually receive them. Many of these children will not achieve academic success due to social, emotional and behavioral problems affecting school performance. School based mental health clinics offer these school aged children accessible and effective mental health services.

Children today have more stress than ever before that place increasing numbers of children at risk. For many of these children mental health services are not available due to cost, lack of insurance coverage, myths and stigma of mental health services that keep these children’s parents from seeking mental health services, lack of accessible care in the community, waiting lists for appropriate services, lack of culturally appropriate services or due to parents that are struggling with multiple jobs and work schedules that make it too difficult to bring their children to a mental health program. School based mental health clinics addresses all of these obstacles to care.

Children who utilize school-based health centers can access needed mental health care without embarrassment or stigma, as it becomes part of their school day. The fact that children are already in school addresses the issues of accessibility and care can be made affordable to all of the school’s children. School social workers can coordinate services with the school-based health clinics, however we caution that these clinics do not offer the same services as school social workers and should not be seen as a replacement for school social work services.

Not all schools have the space necessary for a full school-based health center, however the vast majority of schools should be able to accommodate a mental health clinic as the necessary space consists of a private office.

There were far greater needs than available services for children’s mental health prior to the pandemic. This need for children’s mental health has significantly increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Children fear parents, siblings and friends becoming sick and possibly dying. Children who are in-school often end up yoyoing between being in school and having to learn remotely due to an incident of Covid-19 in their classroom. This has raised children’s anxiety and fears that interfere with the ability to learn. Mental health treatment can ease these fears and teach children how to manage their anxieties. Having school-based mental health clinics is truly the best way to offer children needed mental health care both in the pandemic and post-pandemic. We know that school-based health clinics are a successful model and that half of the children in a school-based health center are there for mental health treatment. Adding school-based mental health clinics will be equally successful and is a great way to put funding into programs that work!

CT is facing a tsunami of mental health needs from this pandemic. We have just begun to see the growing need for treatment and frankly CT is not at all prepared for the wave that is about to hit us. Without adequate children’s mental health care too many vulnerable school children will be washed away, unable to gain the education they have a right too.

Schools do not function in a vacuum. When students cross that school door, they bring with them the life stresses of their family, impacts of poverty, trauma of witnessing violence, fears of being bullied, chronic and acute health problems, and in this pandemic economy where so many families are struggling to get by all of the concerns that a struggling economy places on a family press on the student’s mind. All of these factors are obstacles to learning. All of these obstacles are brought into the classroom. The behavioral staff of a school-based health clinic breaks through these barriers by providing students with a safe place to seek care within the school. This in turn allows students to return to the classroom ready to be productive in their educational learning. That is why it is imperative that school-based mental health clinics be dramatically expanded throughout our state’s public schools.

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