Member4 February 2023 at 18 h 51 min
Hi Jenny- this is SUCH A GREAT question! This comes up quite frequently in my mental health in schools and mental health assessment courses (for obvious reasons). I think the most important thing for schools (and school psychologists) to begin doing, is building strong tier-2 intervention resources. If our assessment window for special education is near the threshold between tiers 2 and 3, and there are no tier 2 resources or interventions, this will INEVITABLY result in MORE assessments.
Tier 2 interventions often include SEL curriculum or programs (I like Positive Action, Strong Kids, Second Step), Check-in/Check-out systems, mentoring programs, group counseling, or other “more targeted” approaches. It is important to maintain that tier 1 support (universal programs, PBIS, school climate initiatives, etc.) often and should blend with and into tier 2 programs. Ideally, this will provide a spectrum of different interventions for different needs that can provide support BUT also gather data to support future interventions – and potentially assessment at some point. There is a lot of funding going into schools right now for these types of initiatives (grant opportunities as well!). This has (should have) led to more school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, nurses, funding for resources and interventions, etc. Lastly, a lot of initiatives for school-based mental health practices rely on collaboration with community-based service providers. This can become quite formal and lead to some excellent support- which will be necessary to respond effectively to the mental health needs that our students are facing.
Additionally, I feel it is important to acknowledge in our assessments for students suspected of presenting an emotional disturbance, that recent events may have a lasting impact on students and their mental health. The norms for our rating scales and traditional assessment tools do not represent this phenomenon (COVID-19 and its impact), and there is a well-known and growing impact of mental health problems facing our adolescents. In the next few weeks, there should be a report coming out from CDC based on their 2021 Child Behavioral Risk Survey data. I believe this report comes out every 2 years and the survey is administered every 2 years as well; the last year that was available was the 2019 data and it indicated significant and ongoing mental health concerns for adolescents in areas of mood disorders (anxiety and depression) as well as growing concerns for suicidal thoughts, ideation, and behaviors. Results from these surveys, PRIOR to COVID-19, deemed adolescent mental health a state of crisis in the US. This data further urges the need for tiered interventions in schools to support students’ needs at each level. In turn, these resources enhance preventative and early-intervention approaches.
This can look/feel/seem like a lot. But in the grand scheme, the current state of our P-12 students’ mental health can result in a substantial increase in assessments or a substantial increase in interventions and resources. While setting up these interventions and resources may be intimidating, school psychologists (IMO) are the optimal school staff to be involved with developing and implementing them. The result should be fewer assessments (due to prevention and earlier identification) in the future. Some resources that can support this can be diving into the literature (book recommendation: Fostering the Emotional Well-Being of Our Youth [Lazarus, Suldo, & Doll, 2021]), local or national affiliates (CASP, NASP, and county-level associations), and online resources (SAMHSA, NIMH, PENT, CASEL, etc. [TONS of cool acronyms]).
Hopefully, this is helpful. This is such an important conversation!