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Audit finds mental health staff lagged in New York schools

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Original article written by Nick Reisman for Spectrum News 1

More than a dozen school districts in New York lack mental health staff and programs, while hundreds more do not have enough social workers or counselors to aid children who are facing challenges. According to an audit released this week by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, schools across New York state entered the pandemic with too few mental health programs and staff. DinNapoli expressed change is needed in the form of more funding for schools to handle what is considered to be a mental health crisis, including increased oversight of mental health education in classrooms and schools in the state.

The audit covered a three-year period in schools from 2018 to 2021. During that time, students and teachers faced the disruption of the pandemic and remote learning. The American Psychological Association last year found more than 80% of teens have experienced school-related stress due to COVID-19.

Mental health programming in schools is also viewed as what's known as an upstream policy, especially for public safety — in other words, if a service can help a child today, it could prevent problems in the future. "We need to put a greater priority and greater resources on mental health in our schools," DiNapoli said. "Hopefully we can avoid some of these situations that are really getting out of hand.”

The lack of mental health staff could change, as schools are being infused with cash from the state and federal governments."We don't know necessarily what will guarantee success, but I think what will guarantee failure is a lack of funding," Jay Worona, the general counsel of the New York School Boards Association.Schools are placing a greater emphasis on mental health programs and counseling as part of the return to classrooms.

"I am convinced that things have got to get better when we're investing in this kind of enterprise and hopefully we will see some changes that are long lasting," Worona said.

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