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Children’s Mental Health—An Issue Around Which We Can All Align

Contributor:

Gayle Garbolino-Mojica
Placer County Superintendent of Schools
Board Member, Align Capital Region

 

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, mental health disorders are the most common health issues faced by our nation’s school-aged children. One in five children suffers from a mental health or learning disorder, and 80% of chronic mental disorders begin in childhood. There is an urgent need to identify the signs of these conditions early in life if children are to get the care and support they need to thrive.

 

This problem is not just limited to certain places in our nation—we see the prevalence of this In Placer County and throughout the Capital region, as well, and it manifests itself in schools in the form of behavioral problems and classroom distractions, depression, and alcohol, drug and tobacco use, and principals statewide report that mental health issues among K-12 students are moderate to severe.

 

These problems occur with children regardless of socioeconomics—no community is exempt.  We know that the prevalence of student mental health issues is higher in children who have experienced trauma, and that children are increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol to self-treat or mask mental health problems.  And, mental health issues are not just limited to teenagers—children are struggling with mental health problems at earlier and earlier ages.

 

Mental health is imperative to learning for all children, and the Placer County Office of Education (PCOE) is working with not only Placer County school districts, but with districts across the state on training administrators and teachers to recognize the signs in students who are struggling with mental health problems.  Strategies include a continuum of mental health training and use positive behavior interventions (PBIS) to adapt their classrooms and line up support services for children.  We need to change the school culture to help our children feel safer and reduce bullying, and we have seen tremendous growth in positive school climates and as well as in our juvenile court schools since the implementation of PBIS.   We are also aligning and partnering with county programs, public safety, and community based programs to benefit from what we have learned and expand upon it to benefit children’s mental health.

 

But we can all do more.  In public education, we typically educate children during the school day.  But children spent time in other places outside of school hours: after school programs, PALs, before and after school care, sports, faith based organizations and more.  Any kind of organization that has a touch point with children, who interact and positively engage with children need to know how to recognize problems and refer appropriate mental health services for children.  We can develop stronger alignments and partnerships with our medical community so that together, our schools and community based organizations can better identify and refer children to services that they need.

 

If we look at student mental health across our county and region, this is an issue that we deal with.  We can share research, best practices, bring in community based organizations that are already part of the Alignment Teams, and bring together funding that can support these programs across the region.  It provides a platform for people who have the same students.  We all serve the same kinds of kids, wouldn’t it be great for us to get on the same page?

 

 

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