City hiring additional mental health care workers for public schools this fall

The entrance to Public School 159 is seen in the Queens borough of New York City
FILE PHOTO: The entrance to Public School 159 is seen in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Over 600 social workers, psychologists and family support workers for New York City public schools will be hired this fall bringing the total number of school-based mental health care providers to 6,000 across the entire system, officials said Tuesday. 

Out of the 600 new hires, 500 will be new school-based social workers, which includes the 150 social workers the city announced they would hire last winter, 60 borough-based social workers, 90 school psychologists and 30 family support workers that will help students at the city’s 270 most high-need schools. 

Officials are hiring additional staff as part of a larger effort to bolster mental health care across the city’s roughly 1,800 public schools as means of helping students recover from trauma experienced throughout the pandemic.

As part of the larger effort, de Blasio announced all public schools this fall will offer mental health screens to students which will come in the form of short questionnaires administered by school staff that should take “less than five minutes.” Last December, De Blasio and former Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced schools would launch the mental health “check-ups” but only to students attending public schools in the City’s 27 neighborhoods hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“These screenings are a preventative measure,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray who joined the mayor during his morning press conference. “They will have an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling, how they are getting along with friends and classmates, how things are going on at home. Really anything big or small they are experiencing…after the year we’ve had these conversations mean more than ever before.” 

Griselle Cardona, a single mother of three from the Bronx who also joined de Blasio and McCray for the announcement, said during the last year her family turned to a public school for “support and solace” from pandemic-related troubles and encouraged other parents to do the same. 

“They extended a hand not only to my children but also to be with counseling and resources we learned how to express our feelings, our inner peace and engage in activities like painting that brought us together as a family,” said Cardona. “Something as simple as sending fidget spinners made a difference in our one-bedroom apartment.” 

In addition, all Summer Rising sites, the city’s free school-based summer program, will be staffed with social workers who will offer k-8th grade students individual and group counseling. Families of the city’s youngest learnings will also be given access to a four-week-long family workshop series called “Parenting Through the Pandemic” geared toward helping families create routines and manage stress. 

Some advocates commended the City for taking an important step towards providing public school students with more mental health support but stressed the initiative still falls short of transforming how mental health is addressed in schools. 

“This is not nearly enough to support students citywide,” said Dawn Yuster, director of Advocates for Children of New York’s School Justice Project. According to Yuster, currently only 290,000 New York City public school students attend a school with a full-time social worker and overall there are is about one social worker for every 621 students. ” Furthermore, the City’s plans do not stop the harmful practice of involving law enforcement in response to students in emotional crisis.”

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