Tonight, I went to an event put on by our PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association). They brought in a lady who works in the mental health field to talk about children’s mental health and she showed us a video. As I sat back watching a child in the video talking about his friend dying from being stabbed, I was quickly transported to my home visit days. The days when I was brave and walked the streets where there was a ton of crime going on around me. I vividly remember one of my client’s telling me that she wasn’t going to let me walk to my car by myself. I was so young and naïve and brave. Some kids have no choice but to walk these dangerous streets.
The violence that some children are living with around them makes me wonder how they are concentrating at all in school. You have children who walk the streets and see their friends get shot or stabbed. You have children who are walking in the door and don’t know what kind of mood their violent father will be in. Will they get hit tonight? How much alcohol will her parents drink tonight? Will they have enough food for dinner?
As I walked into school the other day I was stopped by a mother. She was so upset with her son’s behavior. She went on to tell me that she was on a long waiting list for him to be seen by a counselor. She was hoping she could get him in by March. In the meantime, she didn’t know what to do with him?
When I later told my husband this story, he was frustrated with me for not offering to help. Everyone’s waitlist is so long. I know that if I started seeing clients tomorrow my waitlist would be long too. The need for counselors seems to be growing daily. Sadly, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists never have to worry about job security. The need for counseling has become more generalized, more accepted and more needed. We need more and more services available to children and families. I hate when I hear that someone is on a long waiting list for counseling. I better get on it and provide help for people. It’s on my long list of things I want to do!
As I walk around school, I find myself perplexed that there is one social worker and one psychologist for 650 students. The need is so much greater. I understand the pressures that teachers are under these days for test scores and curriculum. However, as a mother first, I would love to see the teachers more worried about our children’s mental health and less worried about math. I am so tired of math. I have math coming out my ears. I just left my 10 year old downstairs working on her math homework after three hours of theater. I would like to see her resting and not working on homework. If school personnel worried as much about mental health as they did about math, the children would be able to be a lot more successful. I can tell you that both of my daughters don’t need to come home and do math homework after their long days. I know some people believe in homework and some people don’t. I am one of those parents that does not believe in homework. I like to see my children doing prosocial activities after school and resting and having some family time.
How is a child supposed to focus in class when they aren’t sure if they are going to be safe when they go home? How is a child supposed to be able to sit still and keep their attention all day when their parents didn’t have enough money to give them breakfast? I’m thankful that the school provides both breakfast and lunch for kids who need it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t cover dinner.
There are basic needs that come first before any sort of school work. More important than ELA, math, science and social studies is clothing, food and shelter. Does the child have clothes to wear? Are the clothes clean? Does the child have food to eat when they go home? Do they have a home? Is that home safe? Is there electricity and running water? If a child’s basic needs aren’t being met how do we expect them to be successful in school and in life?
A fellow PTA mom told me tonight that I would be astounded by how many of the parents in our community have been arrested or in jail. I guess I don’t tend to think about that. We have such a diverse student body. I knew that some of them didn’t have enough food or clothes, but I didn’t think about things like jail time. I know abuse is an issue. I’m sure neglect is an issue. I think there are a lot more issues than we care to think about. I know custody is a big issue. Does the child know who’s house they are going to tonight?
There are days when my children haven’t gotten enough sleep. I will worry about their ability to focus and get through the school day. There are many days when I can’t get two out of my three children to eat breakfast before school. I’m the same way so I try not to stress too much.
There are so many reasons for how kids act at school. Maybe a child was being mean to them. Maybe they were stabbed with a pencil by another student (yes this did happen).
Why aren’t teachers and school staff trained more on child behavior and mental health? Why aren’t there more staff at school who are trained to help with matters that are more important than school work? I hope that as a society we can pump up the mental health staff in our schools and in our community. It is certainly needed.
There is one fact that I learned in a social work class that came up tonight that I want to end my blog with. This fact is so important to a child’s resilience and success. It takes just one adult in their life that they connect with and feel safe with for a child to be resilient and successful. I want to say it one more time. It takes just ONE adult in a child’s life to make a HUGE difference in their life. We don’t realize how important we can be in the life of a child. I think about all the teachers who make their kids feel safe and connect with their students. Go make a difference in the life of a child.
What would I like to see different?
A required mental health class for all kids every year from kindergarten – senior year of high school taught by a mental health professional.
Guidance counselors or social workers to meet with every child at least twice a year.
Required continuing education for teachers in regards to children’s mental health and behavioral issues. (Maybe this already exists I should go ask some questions).
More available community resources so that people aren’t on long waitlists! Maybe I can open one of these facilities. It is one of my dreams to have a wellness center. To bring my parent’s health food store, my brother’s chiropractic business, my husband’s marketing and financial planning business and a counseling service from me all wrapped up into one center. The first step in getting anything accomplished is to have the dream!
Why do you feel it’s a school’s job to worry about hundreds of children’s mental health? How is that even possible for them to do? What does that even look like?
I think you and Max (our son) have great ideas about changing the educational system. I think you two need to open a school. Add it to my list of desires! I like the Montessori way of teaching.
My answer to Seth:
Sometimes school is a child’s only hope. Sometimes that is the only place that they feel safe and where they can get some help. What it looks like is pumping up schools with more mental health services for children. What it looks like is more available community resources for school staff to refer out to. What it looks like is starting with making sure a child’s mental health is ok so that they are able to learn and focus. Working in school or in the community as a mental health professional is not an easy job. It is not for the weak. It is super important, so valued and so needed. Thank you to each and every one of you who provide this to children and families.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R