Original article written by David Cruz for the Gothamist.
In an effort to address the trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City public schools plan to launch a mental health screening initiative for its students. According to Mayor de Blasio who announced the plan earlier this month, the initiative will assess students' mental well-being at schools in 27 hardest-hit neighborhoods severely impacted by the pandemic. These neighborhoods include East Tremont, Bushwick, Queensbridge, Stapleton, and Washington Heights, which are largely Black and Brown communities. The plan includes adding extra support services to 27 community schools, which work with community-based organizations to respond to a child's social-emotional needs including mental health clinics, food pantries, and immigration counseling. With parental consent, students in urgent need of mental health services will be connected with either NYC Health + Hospitals or the ThriveNYC program by First Lady Chirlane McCray. The city will fund the program in its next budget, hiring an additional 150 social workers to help carry out the work, "We know it's easier and less expensive to grow a healthy child than it is to mend a broken adult," McCray said at de Blasio's morning press conference.
But the program—which McCray noted needs federal stimulus funding to be truly systemwide—won't launch until September 2021. The timeline raised questions about the city's current attempt to address mental health challenges among children, particularly as the pandemic continues. De Blasio defended the timing of the launch, saying the initiative will be more effective when all 1 million public school students are expected to return to the classroom in person come September next year. "What we're now building is a framework for starting to do things in September that we've never done before: to have pervasive social-emotional learning support; pervasive access to mental health support when it's needed, universal screenings," de Blasio stated.
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