In response: School mental-health needs are best addressed by local expertsThe Minnesota School Social Workers Association concurs with U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s approach of recognizing and addressing the need for additional support staff in schools to take on children’s mental-health needs. A News Tribune “Our View” editorial on the proposal from Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, was published Jan. 11 under the headline, “More counseling, yes, but who’ll pay?”
By: Tammie Knick, for the News Tribune
The Minnesota School Social Workers Association concurs with U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s approach of recognizing and addressing the need for additional support staff in schools to take on children’s mental-health needs. A News Tribune “Our View” editorial on the proposal from Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, was published Jan. 11 under the headline, “More counseling, yes, but who’ll pay?”
Although the school
counselor-to-student ratio appears to be alarming, it also is misleading because Minnesota schools have other specialized instructional support personnel who work to address the barriers to social, emotional, mental-health and academic functioning. For example, school social workers work collaboratively with school psychologists, school nurses, school counselors and chemical-health specialists to provide assessment, diagnostic, counseling, educational, therapeutic and other necessary services as part of a comprehensive program to meet student needs. The ratio cited in the editorial did not take into consideration all the specialized instructional support personnel who are working on behalf of Minnesota’s students, addressing issues such as mental health and the need to reduce violence, which was the editorial’s major focus.
Best practice supports a
multidisciplinary approach to address students’ mental-health needs, with a team comprised of a variety of specialized instructional support personnel who have different backgrounds, training and skill sets. For example, school social workers are dually licensed by the Board of Social Work and the Board of Education. As the vital link between home, school and community, school social workers have unique training and knowledge about mental health to address the emotional needs of children. And they can use evidence-based interventions when providing individual and group counseling, evaluation and assessment, crisis prevention and response, conflict resolution, and social-emotional learning opportunities.
To ensure we are truly addressing the mental-health needs of our students, we with the Minnesota School Social Workers Association recommend educational agencies, professionals and decision-makers move beyond using what we contend to be an inaccurate caseload-to-ratio approach. We recommend an approach that recognizes the comprehensive activities performed by and required of specialized instructional support personnel to meet the social, emotional, mental-health and academic needs of all students.
When nationally recommended ratios for each of the individual specialized instructional support personnel organizations are used without considering the specific student population needs (physical, emotional or academic disabilities; socio-economic status; English language learners; chronic health conditions; or homelessness), student needs may go unmet.
As an alternative to recommending a ratio-based caseload range for specific specialized instructional support personnel, staffing should be examined at the local level in collaboration with existing school-employed specialized instructional support personnel and administrators, taking into consideration the specific needs of students.
Tammie Knick of Gibbon, Minn., is president of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association.