This is the first of two volumes of Contemporary School Psychology that will devote special sections to the key role school psychologists play in meeting the social and emotional needs of children and youth. In the past year, broad legislative changes have compelled many school districts in California to reexamine how they will deliver mental health services. Partnerships between County Departments of Mental Health and Local Education Agencies have shifted such that schools are fully assuming the legal and ethical responsibilities to provide counseling, case management, and parent education.
Challenges in the provision of comprehensive mental health service delivery are far from statespecific, however. Several well-designed epidemiological studies have found that over the course of a calendar year; about 20% of children suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder (e.g., Burns, Costello, Angold, Tweed, et al., 1995; Costello, et al. 1989; Shaffer et al. 1996). While these data have flaws (Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, 2005) and these risks are not evenly distributed across communities, even a conservative interpretation suggests that there are large unmet needs in any school across the nation. These needs invite us, as change agents, to critically examine current practices and consider alternative perspectives in supporting the social and emotional well-being of our students.
The notion that systematic change invites both risk and opportunity is perhaps cliché but still fitting, as the transition away from clinic or community-based services toward school-based service delivery becomes more widespread. Many school districts believe they lack sufficient systems to coordinate these services and many school psychologists contend they do not feel adequately prepared to step into the role of mental health service provider. Perhaps the most significant risk in this transition is that children's needs will go unmet, leading to an even greater social and financial cost to families, schools, and society.
Yet, we offer the interpretation this transition is also ripe with opportunity. As Adelman and Taylor point out in their introduction to the special section, schools provide an excellent point of access for students and families who may benefit from mental health services. Given this, one positive outcome is that more children will receive the services they need to be successful in school. Additionally, school psychologists are embedded in children's broader educational ecosystem. Their familiarity with children's educational needs, the services they receive to meet those needs and the people who work with those children provide a fundamental advantage in providing more integrated and responsive services.
The California Association of School Psychologists (CASP) has argued that school psychologists have the training, expertise and legal authority to deliver these services (Beam, Brady, & Sopp, 2011). We would add to this argument that the broad training of school psychologists in consultation, behavioral interventions, and academic interventions, in addition to individual and group counseling, makes them uniquely qualified to provide mental health services in the schools. This issue of CSP demonstrates those unique qualifications and the breath of services provided by school psychologists.
The special section on School Psychologists Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Children and Youth begins with a commentary by Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor from the Center for Mental Health in Schools. They argue convincingly that in addition to effective approaches to dealing with specific problems, mental health and psychosocial concerns need to be included in a comprehensive approach to school improvement. …