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Advocacy in Action: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Public Policy Institute--Mental Health Panel

By Stacy Skalski, NASP Director of Public Policy, and Mary Beth Klotz, NASP Director of IDEA Projects and Technical Assistance

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (left), Monica Oganes Murray (right)

On October 1, 2007 NASP leader Monica Oganes Murray participated in a panel discussion on mental health at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference. The conference offered six concurrent summits in order to facilitate discussions on the most significant issues affecting the Hispanic community. Summits were based on the taskforces of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and thus chaired by a Hispanic Member of the U.S. Congress. The mental health panel discussion was hosted by Representative Grace F. Napolitano (CA-38) who introduced the Mental Health in Schools Act, H.R. 3430 last summer. Other experts for the panel discussion entitled, “The Truth About Salud Mental: Demystifying and Destigmatizing For All Ages” included representatives from National Alliance for Mental Illness Multicultural Center (NAMI), U.S. Army Medical Services Corps, American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Hispanic Psychiatrists, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Culturally Competent Mental Health Services

In her remarks, Ms. Murray, who serves as Cochair of the Hispanic/Latino Group of NASP’s Multicultural Affairs Committee, discussed the stressors that Latino students experience and the barriers they face to receiving quality mental health services. These students have often experienced trauma in their country of origin, face discrimination and long separations from loved ones after moving to the U.S. , and are likely to live below the poverty line. Barriers to Latino parents and students seeking mental health services include cultural misunderstandings, communication difficulties, mistrust, and the stigma associated with mental illness. Ms. Murray also underscored the critical importance of providing school mental health services that are sensitive to racial, cultural and linguistic differences and the vital contributions that school psychologists make in providing these services. Finally, Ms. Murray expressed NASP support for Congresswoman Napolitano’s Mental Health in the Schools Act and urged others to do so.

Promoting NASP’s Message

NASP’s efforts to communicate with other educational professionals, the community, and public policy leaders about the importance of school mental health services, and specifically the role of school psychologists in delivering these services, have been ongoing for many years. Additionally, NASP promotes the delivery of school mental health services in a culturally responsive manner. These outreach and advocacy efforts have been advanced by the close collaboration among the NASP staff, the Government and Professional Relations (GPR) Committee, the Multicultural Affairs Committee, the Mental Health Task Force, and the Communications Committee. The key mental health and cultural competency messages that NASP has delivered at various Capitol Hill briefings and most recently by Ms. Murray for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute are:

  • Mental health is as important to children as physical health and is integral to success in school and life.
  • Mental health services, like all educational services, need to be culturally responsive.
  • Schools are the natural place to deliver mental health services to children and youth.
  • School mental health services focus on the child within the school setting and collaboration with families.
  • School psychologists provide a continuum of mental health services such as consultation, screening, assessment, intervention, and evaluation.
  • School psychologists, like school counselors and social workers, help link student needs and school services with community services to provide a full continuum of mental health care.

Mental Health in the Schools Act of 2007

The Mental Health in Schools Act, H.R. 3438 was introduced on August 3, 2007 by Rep. Grace Napolitano with 64 original cosponsors, including Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), Cochair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus. HR 3430 is a companion bill to Senate Bill 1332 and was introduced in early May by Senators Kennedy, Enzi, Domenici, and Dodd. NASP, along with other educational organizations, mental health advocates, and our school mental health colleagues from the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselors Association and the School Social Work Association of America, provided legislative language and helped garner both legislative co-sponsors and professional organizational support for Congresswoman Napolitano’s bill. Both bills authorize competitive grants to local school districts in order to assist them in providing comprehensive school-based mental health programs for students (K-12) in communities across America . The funding outlined in the bills would broaden the scope of the Safe Schools-Healthy Students program, provide schools with flexible use of funds to expand their current mental health programs, and require schools to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate comprehensive staff development in techniques and supports in early identification, use of effective referral mechanisms to ensure intervention services, strategies to promote school-wide positive environment, and models for school collaboration, coordination, and consulting.

NASP encourages school psychologists to support the passage of the Mental Health in the Schools Act, H.R. 3430 by sending emails to your representatives. The NASP Advocacy Action Center http://capwiz.com/naspweb/home/ makes this advocacy effort quick and efficient. Simply click on the link indicating your desire to “Support HR 3430 Mental Health in the Schools Act of 2007” and send (or edit to your preferences) the letter NASP has composed.

Collaboration: The Essential Ingredient for Effective Advocacy

The catalyst for the successful advocacy activities identified in this article (participation on congressional panels, assisting in the drafting and issuance of federal legislation to expand school mental health services, promotion of this federal bill through the Advocacy Action Center, etc.) is one key advocacy technique - collaboration. Rep. Napolitano’s office contacted NASP for a recommendation of a person to serve on the Hispanic Caucus panel largely because of the collaborative work that NASP and their school-employed mental health colleagues have done with her office. When NASP’s Director of Public Policy needed a name of a panel participant appropriate for this caucus, it was the collaboration of the NASP staff and committee leaders that helped identify the “right person” for this job. When the Congresswoman requested research, handouts, materials, and resources for distribution to session participants, it was the collaboration of NASP’s staff and committee leaders that helped identify and pull the materials and resources together. Without collaboration, none of these advocacy opportunities would have presented themselves, and none of them could have been completed with efficiency and effectiveness.

National, State and Local Advocacy

NASP has developed numerous materials and resources to help members on the local or state level advocate for children’s mental health services and to increase awareness of the role of school psychologists. On the NASP website members can find school psychology awareness week resources, tips for becoming an effective advocate, research summaries, statistics, citations, and key fact sheets. Additionally, NASP regularly meets with coalition partners to share information, develop materials, resources, and policy documents, and participate in visits to elected officials on Capitol Hill. Participating in panel discussions at the state or local level, adapting and disseminating NASP communication resources and fact sheets, collaborating with colleagues for a common good, and sending messages to your representatives to support key mental health and education bills, are all ways that NASP members signal their dedication to the profession and the student’s we serve through “Advocacy in Action.”

Helpful Resources

NASP Culturally Competent Practice Webpage http://www.nasponline.org/resources/culturalcompetence/index.aspx

NASP Advocacy Webpage

NASP Communications Resources

"Communication Matters: Culturally Competent Mental Health Services in the Schools"

"Mental Health and Mental Health Care Among Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the U.S."

Removing Barriers to Learning and Improving Student Outcomes: The Importance of School-Based Mental Health Services http://www.nasponline.org/press/removingbarriers.pdf.

Advocacy in Action is a regular column dedicated to providing state associations and their school psychologist members with ideas on how they can become involved in Legislative Advocacy efforts. If you have a good idea you would like to share for this column, email Stacy Skalski, Public Policy Director at sskalski@naspweb.org.