Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

As Kids' Mental Health Issues Increase, School Districts Boost Response

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

As Kids' Mental Health Issues Increase, School Districts Boost Response

Article excerpt

Some Seaman Unified School District 345 staff have spent the past few months analyzing strategies for supporting students with serious mental health concerns.

A group of two dozen elementary- and secondary-level teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers and school psychologists met Nov. 30 at the district offices to discuss drafts of a suicide prevention and intervention plan that would become uniform across the district.

Dedra Raines, the district's director of special services, said district students took a Kansas Communities That Care Survey that showed higher rates of depression and suicidality. Survey data from 2016 showed 29.05 percent of Shawnee County students who took the survey said that in the past 12 months, they had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. Comparatively, 25.41 percent of students statewide who took the survey indicated the same.

"Our children have more concerns with depression and suicide, so now we're looking at what strategies do we have in place, what interventions do we have, to meet those needs of those students that aren't getting the needs met within their general education classroom," Raines said.

Nancy Crago, director of psychosocial rehabilitation at Topeka's Family Service & Guidance Center, said children now are exposed to more traumas than they were previously, which means they come to school with a set of mental health issues that schools haven't dealt with before.

"Schools all over the country are reporting that they're experiencing mental health issues in their students like they've never seen before," she said.

It is critical, she said, that schools focus on mental health.

"Sometimes, they're the first people that discover that a child's depressed or that a child's having mental health issues," Crago said.

Evidence-based practices

Seaman received a grant two years ago through which the Kansas State Department of Education's Technical Assistance System Network is working to help it implement a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, or MTSS, an evidence-based framework for structuring academic, behavioral and social-emotional supports meant to ensure the success of every student.

Christina Mann, a state trainer with TASN's Kansas MTSS Project, led the group of Seaman staff as they worked in small groups to discuss the suicide prevention and intervention plan, then shared feedback.

Raines said each of the district's schools already had individual plans in place similar to the one being prepared by the group. The plan is implemented when any district employee reports hearing a student say something that prompts a concern for his or her well-being.

That "behavior of concern" should be immediately reported to an administrator, social worker, counselor or psychologist, who then interviews the student, asking enough questions -- such as whether the student is considering suicide and has the means to do so -- to determine a level of risk for suicidality. If a student is hostile or noncompliant, the person conducting the interview should assume they are at a moderate or high risk of suicidality, according to the draft protocol.

The intervention plan then guides staff through contacting a parent or guardian, providing resources and following up to ensure the student is receiving outside support, Raines said. …

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