#ParentPriorities for School-Based Mental Health Supports in DC

The Problem

Our communities are in crisis.

Experts have declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health, and parents/caregivers, educators, and mental health professionals alike are overwhelmed and on the verge of burnout.

While there have been strong steps taken to improve access to mental health supports at school in DC, far too many families are not aware or able to receive the support that they need. 

Our Vision

An education system that prioritizes student mental health and wellness where all students and their families have readily accessible, high-quality school-based mental health services, supports, and education and is responsive to student needs.

In order to make PAVE parent leaders' vision a reality, we have identified a set of solutions that we believe our DC leaders should work with communities and families to prioritize.

Policy Solutions: 

  • Social emotional learning incorporated into daily schedules at all schools, differentiated based on community needs and age groups. 
  • Cultural competency & trauma-informed training to recognize and respond to students facing challenges and/or crisis.
  • Clear referral processes for students to receive support from a mental health professional, especially for students with special needs. 
  • Resources and training to regularly assess student wellbeing and use data to inform decisions and responses (i.e. both formal and informal wellness checks).
  • Provide training for staff on how to recognize signs of mental health issues like depression or anxiety and what to do next.

Improve supports for teacher and school staff mental health, including but not limited to:

  • Ensuring teachers have manageable workloads and mental health support (i.e. extend school-based mental health services to staff, provide information about Employee Assistance Programs, etc.).
  • Hiring support staff to support academics and behavior.
  • Professional development and ongoing support for school leaders to build a supportive culture.
  • Partnerships with community organizations and experts, like Transcend, SchoolTalk/Restorative DC, and Turnaround for Children.
  • Create partnerships with surrounding colleges and universities to incentivize mental health professionals to serve in our schools. Examples can include scholarships and/or guaranteed contracts upon graduation. 
  • Prioritize recruitment and retention of mental health professionals that look like and come from the communities they will serve.
  • Widen the network of potential service providers in DC schools by changing legislation to accept Maryland and Virginia licensure and certification in DC.  
  • Ensure providers are trained to work specifically in school settings and offer multiple opportunities for professional development.
  • Offer competitive salaries and signing bonuses (housing stipends, transportation stipends etc.) compared to nearby states.
  • Improve families’ access to mental health support information.
    • Require school-based support information to be available on the MySchoolDC website.
      • This can include provider information, mental health professional to student ratio, types of mental health professionals, etc.
    • Ensure schools have a system of sharing information about available mental health supports with all families. 
      • Opportunities for families to engage with school leadership and mental health clinicians to ask questions and get resources.
      • A website page and monthly newsletter with information about available supports/resources.
      • Training for teachers, (who are often parents’ first point of contact) designed  to share information about available supports and referral processes. 
    • Develop a centralized portal of resources for families to support their children at home.
      • Include targeted and up-to-date resources about SBMH programs where families already are (e.g. schools, recreation centers, libraries) that can support their needs (support for children with disabilities, hotlines for those in crisis, staff training, caregiver needs etc). 
      • These resources should be provided virtually and in-person and should be language accessible for non-English dominant families.
  • Use data to inform budgets and plans. 
    • Utilize information from the upcoming SBMH cost study to help create a comprehensive and long-term plan for the future and inform budget decisions.
    • This should include increased funding for:
      • Grants to community-based providers to cover the true cost of care including for special needs students.
      • School staff training and ongoing coaching to identify needs and implement best practices.
      • Investments in systems to improve information sharing and coordination of care, including co-pays for SBMH services.
  • The plan should also include a mechanism for accountability and regular and easy to locate communication to the community about progress, like a dynamic dashboard that shows the number of schools that are matched with a clinician, evaluation results, etc.
  • Create standards and effective systems for agencies to collaborate in order to enhance the quality and level of care in schools, including but not limited to the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE), District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), public charter school Local Education Agencies (LEAs), the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB), Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), and the Department of Health (DoH).
  • Coordination should include practices that focus on:
    • Improving mental health staff retention.
    • Clarity regarding which agencies/institutions are accountable for effective implementation.
    • The District should also work with all stakeholders to improve coordination and communication of services and support at the school level, including data-sharing for continuous improvement, providing resources and support for school mental health teams and a school mental health team coordinator.
    • Coordinate care as students move from elementary, to middle, and then high school in order to provide seamless transitions.

Support Parent Leaders’ Vision for School-Based Mental Health!

"We must UNDERSTAND the impact of trauma on a child's brain and the influence of this child's brain development on their learning and social emotional growth.
We must ACKNOWLEDGE that learning challenges and behaviors often result from trauma, and develop plans and best practices to address these issues in trauma-sensitive ways.
We must RECOGNIZE how trauma-informed care enables children with ACEs to overcome challenges and learn in a safe, supportive environment, and develop strategies to help children avoid re-traumatization."
DaSean Jones
Ward 7 Parent Leader