President's Message

President's Message: Exciting but Sad Report Released

By Melissa Reeves

Volume 45 Issue 4

By Melissa Reeves

I was excited and saddened by the Center for American Progress’ recent report, “Counsel or Criminalize: Why Students of Color Need Supports, Not Suspensions.” Excited because this report is one of the best I have seen that highlights the need for increased mental health services in schools and, in particular, an increase in hiring more school psychologists. Saddened because it showcases the high prevalence of trauma and other severe mental and behavioral health issues faced by our students. Too many school systems are set up to be reactive, not proactive, when it comes to addressing these issues. This contributes to schools using harsh discipline instead of interventions and supports, particularly with students of color. This report contains powerful information, some of which is summarized below:

  • 35 million children are dealing with trauma, yet only 8 million have access to a school psychologist.
  • 38% of African American children, 32% of Hispanic children, and 35% of Native American children live in poverty.
  • In 2013–2014, nearly 3 million students were suspended out of school with little attention being been paid to trauma and long-term violence exposure as a contributing factor to the development of severe emotional and behavioral difficulties.
  • Black children are nearly three times as likely as White children to be victims of abuse or neglect, nearly three times less likely to receive mental health care, and nearly four times as likely to be suspended for minor classroom misconduct.
  • Native American youth are twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • Those with an emotional or behavioral disability; or who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer; or who are non-English native speakers; and who are also of color, often have multiple forms and incidences of trauma simultaneously.
  • Over 90% of youth in juvenile detention facilities exhibit symptoms of either posttraumatic stress disorder or another mental health condition.
  • Only 16% of children who need mental health services receive them, and roughly 80% who do receive services get them in a school setting.

The report also highlights the shortage of school mental health providers due to shrinking budgets and misplaced priorities. In public schools, only 63% have a full-time counselor; 22% a full-time psychologist; and 18% an in-house social worker. In Alabama, the percentage of public schools with full-time school psychologists is close to zero.

NASP has issued a statement supporting the report and will be using it as an advocacy tool at the national level. How can we as individuals make a difference?

Use this report as an educational and advocacy tool. Pass it along to as many key stakeholders as possible and highlight the key findings. There is a connection between low levels of mental health professionals and higher rates of exclusionary practices.

Advocate for trauma-informed practices. ESSA supports our work as mental and behavioral health providers, and Title IV funding can be used to support these practices.

Advocate for increased funding. The report called for prioritization of funding for school-based counseling and mental health programs but also stated, “The presence of a school counselor should not negate the need for school psychologists and social workers. These professionals perform discrete roles as support staff and hold different credentials, licenses, and training in mental health and social services.”

Help develop culturally responsive practices. This includes a better understanding of mental health issues and decreasing the stigma associated with mental health.

Facilitate a restorative—not punitive—approach to school discipline. While there still needs to be accountability for behavior, students are more apt to positively change when they understand the feelings and thoughts that underlie their behaviors.

While we are overworked and understaffed, we are not short in the passion we have for taking those small steps to change lives. This report shows we can and do make a difference!

The NASP Statement and the CAP report can be accessed at -access-to-school-psychologists.

Melissa Reeves is the president of the National Association of School Psychologists