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NYC is Expanding Resources for Students’ Mental Health. But Is It Enough?

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Original article written by Abigail Savitch- Lew for CityLimits

Under the de Blasio administration, there is a proposal to increase spending for student mental health initiatives. Yet, council members and advocates are pushing for more.

Council members applauded the new investments in socio-emotional mental health supports, but they also raised concerns.

The city has no data set that comprehensively documents the mental health supports available for each school.

Community School Expansion

By all accounts, the community school model has proved hugely successful, and many say that more schools must be introduced to the model, which addresses the holistic needs of students and families using partnerships with community-based organizations and by extending support beyond normal school hours. In December, the mayor committed to an additional 27 community school contracts in the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19.

While encouraged by the city’s new investments, community school advocates are concerned about what will happen once federal relief funds begin tapering off—decreasing in FY 2025 and then dropping off completely.

Mental Health Workers in Every School

According to the de Blasio administration’s press release, the city will hire 500 school based social workers (inclusive of the 150 new hires announced in December), along with 60 borough based social workers, 90 psychologists, and 30 family-facing support workers to serve the 270 most high-needs schools.

As with the city’s community school investments, federal aid used to make new hires and restorations tapers off over four years, leaving questions about what will be used to replace it.

Schools also have different kinds of partnerships to support student mental health. Including charters, there are 200 school-based mental health clinics (which also serve charters) and 350 schools have mental health specialists that work between several schools. Furthermore, some schools have partnerships with community-based organizations and 60 now have partnerships with NYC Health + Hospitals, which connect students to outpatient mental health services.

Student to Support Ratios

The City Council has also called on the administration to meet the nationally recommended ratios of students to social workers. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a ratio of no more than 250 students per school counselor, and the National Association of Social Workers recommends the same for social workers, but specifies a ratio of 50 students to one professional if the students have intensive needs. Meanwhile, the New York State Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of no more than 1,000 students to a psychologist and no more than 500 to 700 students when “comprehensive and preventative services” are being provided.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly cut off the end portion of this story; it has been updated to include the full article.

City Limits’ series on behavioral health and NYC’s children is supported by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. City Limits is solely responsible for the content and editorial direction.

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