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School mental health professionals gather for Advocacy Day at the Kansas Statehouse

School mental health professionals gather for Advocacy Day at the Kansas Statehouse

School mental health professionals on Wednesday, Jan. 31, gathered for the 8th Annual School Mental Health Advocacy Day at the Kansas State Capitol to learn more about each other’s work and to raise awareness about the mental health needs of students.

School Mental Health Advocacy Day is a partnership of Kansas Association of School Psychologists, Kansas School Counseling Association,  Kansas School Social Work Association and, new this year, the Kansas School Nurse Organization.

The morning session featured guest speakers, including two Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) staff members.

Kent Reed, a counseling education program consultant on KSDE’s Career, Standards and Assessment Services (CSAS) team, gave remarks before introducing Trish Backman, school mental health coordinator on KSDE’s Special Education and Title Services (SETS) team. They both talked about the importance of mental health support in schools and praised those in attendance for the work they do.

Reed said he was thrilled with the turnout, as it was standing room only.

Ann Mah, a Kansas State Board of Education member also was a guest speaker. She praised Kansas for being a leader in its social-emotional learning (SEL).

Throughout her visits with hundreds of Kansas students over the last couple of years  the common theme she heard was that that adults need to pay more attention to student mental health needs.

“The transition back to in-person learning created stress that adults just didn’t pick up on,” Mah said.

Mah encouraged those in attendance to present testimony during legislative committee meetings to raise awareness about the mental health needs of students.

According to Jane Groff ,executive director of the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center (KPIRC), the need for student mental health services is greater now than ever.

“And we know that by the rising youth suicide rates and the rising number of behavioral issues in schools,” said Groff. “We know that we need to focus on student wellbeing more than ever. And every person in a school building can do that, whether it’s the teacher, the administrator, the principal, the psych. Whether it’s social media’s impact, the pandemic’s impact, there needs to be a focus now on the student wellbeing and that’s the whole student. Their social wellbeing, as well as their academic learning.”

Groff says the first step is to break down the social-emotional learning barrier to inform, support and empower families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 children ages 2-8 years in the United States have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. In 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identified 3.8 million adolescents ages 12-18 who reported major depressive episodes. Sixty percent of them did not receive any treatment, however, those who did receive services did so only in a school setting.

Backman said parents are their biggest partner. She said it’s critical for parents to be involved in their children’s mental health because mental health professionals are providing the opportunity to practice it in a place where it’s ok to fail and struggle, and then have supporting adults that are coming alongside them all day and encouraging them to keep trying and persevere.

In the afternoon, participants attended hearings and met with local legislators to talk about what mental health looks like in schools, successes they’re having with programs such as the Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT), and how the Kansas Technical Assistance System Network (TASN) partners have helped them address behaviors and help kids show growth.

“Our ratios are not where they’re supposed to be yet,” Backman said. “[School mental health professionals’] caseloads are supposed to be at 100-250 kids. You don’t see all of them all the time. Some of them you see more frequently than others but when their numbers are 1 to 500 or 1 to 350, that is so unmanageable. And we need more people.”
“I’ve heard story after story from parents and students about how being able to have some therapy, or a school mental health center in the school to meet with, has supported them and helped them and made it far less complicated to get support,” Goff said.

She said the event was beneficial for everyone in the field to be together on Wednesday to learn more about the different work each organization or person does and to leave feeling encouraged in their work.

Those in attendance received numerous resources to help support a child’s wellbeing and to distribute them to educators and family members. You can find those and more here.

Posted: Feb 1, 2024,
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