Testimony on SB 1: An Act Concerning Childhood Mental & Physical Health Services in Schools

Education Committee

March 18, 2022

Submitted by: Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

 On behalf of the National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter representing nearly 2,400 members, we strongly support SB 1 except for Section 3, which we oppose.

Section 1 of the bill will provide informative data as to the numbers of school social workers and school psychologists throughout the state. We support the data collection on school social workers. We have found that such data is not available leaving it impossible to determine which school districts are lacking in school social work services and which systems are understaffed for school social workers. Having such information will allow for better planning as to where the need exists most for additional school social workers and school psychologists, as well as where the gaps are in terms of public schools without school social workers. The NASW Standards for School Social Work Services call for a ratio of 250 students per one social worker.

Section 2 creates a grant program that is critically needed by municipalities for the first- time employment of school social workers or the expansion of school social workers in those schools that have an insufficient number of school social workers. This is one of the most significant provisions in SB 1.  NASW/CT strongly supports the grant program allowing school districts to hire additional school social workers and school psychologists. We know that mental health concerns are an obstacle to students learning and school social workers and other school based mental health staff are essential to meeting the current and future mental health needs of students.

NASW/CT opposes section 3 and urges it be deleted. The pandemic has brought on an urgent need for more mental health providers to work within schools. The acuity of the mental health needs of students requires the specialized training that only a graduate or doctoral degree in a behavioral health field can provide. Even then current school mental health professionals struggle with the level of needs being exhibited by students. To allow baccalaureate degreed individuals to provide mental health services with students carries the serious risk of doing more harm than good. Plus, such baccalaureate trained persons would require close supervision by a graduate degree mental health professional in the school, taking time away that the supervisor would otherwise have to perform their current roles. We understand the need for more mental health providers in schools, but this is not the answer. Rather than expend funds by SDE to administer the permit program, better to apply those funds toward the hiring of more qualified mental health providers, such as school social workers that require a master degree in social work.

We strongly support Sections 20-21 as school-based health centers are an extremely effective model of health and mental health delivery. Schools are the one place where children can be reached thus school-based mental health services are essential to effectively addressing the crisis in children’s mental health. For many students the SBHC is the only health and mental health service available to them. Comprehensive SBHC’s offer mental health treatment, address acute conditions, provide preventive medical exams, treat injuries, offer oral health care, provide follow-up on chronic conditions and offer health education. Other SBHCs are mental health focused, working with children to cope with the stresses and behavioral issues that impede their ability to learn within the classroom setting. These are services that benefit the student, the student’s family, teachers and the school system by having a healthier student body. An increase in funding will go a long way toward meeting the community needs of students, many of whom are from low-income households.

We take note that school counselors are not included in SB 1. We recommend that school counselors be added to the bill where applicable.

Schools do not function in a vacuum. When students cross that school door they bring with them the life stresses of their family, effects of Covid-19, impacts of poverty, trauma of witnessing violence, fears of being bullied, chronic and acute health problems, and in this economy where so many families are struggling to get by all of the concerns that a student’s family faces press on the student’s mind. All of these factors are obstacles to learning. All of these obstacles are brought into the classroom. The school mental health professionals break through these barriers by providing students with non-judgmental help. This in turn allows students to return to the classroom ready to be productive in their educational learning.

NASW/CT supports SB 1 in all it’s sections except for section 3. We urge the Education Committee to delete section 3 and vote for the remainder of SB 1.

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