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Houe passes bill improving mental health services for students

“This bill will address the disparity and shortfall of mental health professionals in Delaware elementary schools.,” said Rep. Longhurst (D) Bear.

DOVER (DE) CONTRIBUTED BY DHD: The House unanimously passed landmark legislation Tuesday that would significantly improve the mental wellbeing of elementary school students throughout Delaware by providing more direct, in-school resources.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, House Bill 100 would establish a mental health services unit for Delaware elementary schools, allowing for schools to hire one full-time school counselor, school social worker, or licensed clinical social worker for every 250 students in grades kindergarten through fifth. It also would allow the hiring of one full-time school psychologist or licensed mental health therapist for every 700 elementary school students.

“As we’ve seen time and time again, schools aren’t just spaces to learn lessons out of a textbook. They are formative years in a child’s life, and mental health services are critical to that foundation. The need for more adequate services has become even clearer during the past year due to COVID, which has put an enormous mental health stress on our children,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear.

“This bill will address the disparity and shortfall of mental health professionals in Delaware elementary schools. For far too long, the mental health of our students has been treated as a secondary need – if even that much. The truth is, the mental health of our young students is vital to them growing, learning and becoming successful adults. This pandemic has only magnified the need to put our students’ mental wellness at the front of the line.”

According to the CDC, one in six U.S. children aged 2-8 years had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, such as depression, ADHD, anxiety and other behavioral problems. Untreated mental illness can lead to increased risk of dropout, homelessness, substance abuse, other chronic illnesses, incarceration, and possibly suicide.

“So many of our children need far more than classroom lessons and homework,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, the Senate prime sponsor of SB 100. “Young people throughout our state are dealing with real trauma at home, issues often compounded by undiagnosed mental, behavioral and developmental disorders. Social workers, psychologists and mental health counselors should be as commonplace in our schools as nurses have been for generations. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House for recognizing that fact today and I look forward to passing this bill in the Senate soon.”

Delaware’s schools have not been given the resources to succeed in preventing and treating mental health in its earliest stages. More than 85% of Delaware elementary schools do not employ a school social worker. Delaware elementary schools have an average counselor-to-student ratio of 1 to 580. Two school districts do not employ a single school counselor at the elementary level.

“HB 100 is nothing short of a game changer. Our educators often express the need for added support professionals in our schools, without them our children’s mental health is often left unaddressed.  In the classroom this translates to difficulty learning and focusing on the lesson at hand, difficulty building meaningful relationships, and failing to develop healthy behavior habits and coping skills” said DSEA President Stephanie Ingram.

“Teachers and other educators have difficulty meeting the needs of many children outside of a comforting shoulder to lean on or a supportive conversation. Sometimes that is enough…but sometimes it isn’t. The positions outlined in this legislation bring unique talents, experiences, and professional expertise that not only support children’s mental health and academic success, but also support their families and can provide guidance in this area for all staff.”

HB 100 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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