Schools in Poor Areas Have More Students with Mental Health Needs

National Journal

January 13, 2016


Nearly forty percent of youth who needed mental health care between 2011-12 didn’t receive the necessary treatment, according to the Children’s Defense Fund’s 2014 State of America’s Children report. For families living in poverty, that number reached 45 percent, and for black and Latino children, it was 55 and 46 percent, respectively. But schools may soon have more resources to change that. In addition to shaking up standardized testing rules, the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation’s new federal education law the successor to No Child Left Behind includes funding for schools to invest in the mental and behavioral health of their students. The new law authorizes grants to the tune of $1.6 billion. School districts that serve the highest concentration of students living in poverty will be eligible for the most funding, at least 20 percent of which must be spent on mental and behavioral health services per district. MaryLee Allen, director of policy at the Children’s Defense Fund, describes mental health treatment as a continuum: One end involves helping children deal with trauma, and the other end involves intensified care, such as residential treatment. The stress and violence that children in poverty experience, not a general predisposition to mental illness, makes the beginning of that continuum critical. “There’s just more stress in their lives,” Allen says. “So, it’s important that we understand the importance of emotional health, that we help them deal with that stress, and get them at a point where it’s not impeding their ability to perform in school and other sorts of things.”
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