Elected officials gathered March 22 at the New York State capitol to urge Governor Kathy Hochul and other legislators to increase the number of mental health professionals in New York school districts.
Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, elected officials, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union, mental healthcare professionals and advocates were present to highlight the dire need for mental health support in New York schools.
“New York State must increase mental health services in schools,” said Assemblymember Jessica Gonález-Rojas. “The increase in depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among our young people amid this crisis only highlights this need. It is a tragedy that there are still school districts across our state that do not have at least one social worker and one psychologist to provide assessment, mental health services, and support to teachers. We urge the Governor and legislative leadership to fund this proposal in the final Enacted State Budget to meet this critical need.”
Students across the state are currently facing an unprecedented mental health crisis; with the U.S Surgeon General recently declaring a national emergency for child and adolescent mental health.
Simultaneously, NYS schools – particularly in rural and high-needs districts – lack the funding needed to support struggling students. Attendees at the rally called for $40 million to be included in the final Enacted Budget that the State Assembly accepted in its one-house resolution so that school districts can achieve this goal.
Rally attendees also called for legislators to pass A5019/S1969, the bill sponsored by Assemblymember González-Rojas and Senator Robert Jackson. The bill intends to allocate at least one social worker and one psychologist to each school district in order to meet the mental healthcare demands of students.
“Social-emotional development and mental health play an enormous role in student wellness and academic success,” said Senator Jackson. “Students, families, and educators are standing in unity, demanding the State fund mental health professionals in our public schools. School social workers and psychologists will help address the devastating impacts of a persisting pandemic, overcrowded schools, and poverty in working-class communities across the state. I am hopeful that we can deliver education justice in the lives of the most vulnerable New Yorkers in this year’s budget to support every school in providing a sound basic education.”
The burgeoning demand for existing school mental health experts is also an indicator that mental health struggles are a major concern for students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One study indicated that mental health crisis related to the pandemic have significantly increased, with mental health–related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 from March to October of 2020 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019 emergency department visits.
“As New York’s students continue to struggle after the losses and disruptions associated with the pandemic, we must ensure our schools are equipped to address their unmet mental health needs,” said State Senator Samra Brouk, Chair of the Senate Committee on Mental Health. “This legislation, which would guarantee students have a full-time licensed social worker and psychologist at their disposal, is a step toward ensuring the well-being and safety of all of New York’s students.”
NYC Schools Chancellor David C. Bank announced Tuesday – following the rally in Albany – that the Department of Education’s (DOE) annual report on social workers and guidance counselors, which indicated that the investment to hire mental health professionals to support student well-being has resulted in an increased number of staff in these positions citywide.
“Schools are safe havens for our students, and they are critical in supporting students as they heal from the past two years of challenges,” said Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. “It’s my priority to give our children what they need to grow into the very best people we know they can be, and that means addressing the toll this pandemic and other traumatic experiences have had on our students’ mental well-being. I’m proud that this important expansion connects our children to the vital resources they deserve, giving them the necessary tools to grow and flourish as learners and productive members of their communities.”
Over the past school year, over 500 new social workers and guidance counselors were hired in response to the demand for more mental health support in schools.
“Even before COVID, the City Council has long called for more guidance counselors and mental health professionals for students in our schools,” said New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “For the past two years, the numerous impacts of the pandemic have taken a significant toll on the mental health and well-being of our children. As a city, we need to consistently provide nurturing educational environments that support social emotional learning and wellness with appropriate staffing. With the Department of Education focused on expanding these resources for our children, I look forward to ensuring the needs of all students in our school system are met.”