“Report Card” on school mental health policies outlines work needed for California’s youth

If you are the parent or guardian of school-aged children, then you likely are aware of the toll the pandemic has taken on their mental health. Our children and youth are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, and loneliness during this challenging time. It’s critical that schools have mental health services so that every child thrives. California’s policy-makers need to understand how essential it is to set this generation on a path to mental wellness. We now have additional information to help guide the way.

On Wednesday the Hopeful Futures Campaign released “America’s School Mental Health Report Card.” The report card scored all U.S. states and Washington D.C. on several policy areas, including ratios of school mental health professionals to students, teacher and staff training, and mental health instruction requirements for students. The campaign is made up of a coalition of 17 mental health organizations.

So how did California fare? The state scored high marks on two areas: policies that support funding of school mental health services for Medicaid-eligible students and policies that support and enable schools to engage with families and community partners. According to the coalition’s analysis, the state has made meaningful progress in mental health education and policies that foster safe, supportive schools. The report card also notes “some progress” in teacher and staff training.

The report identifies three policy areas where “little or no progress has been achieved.” Specifically, California’s ratio of students to mental health professionals is too low, there are no requirements to check on the well-being of students and school staff, and no ‘life-skills’ requirements for K-12 students.

Read the complete report here.

This comprehensive analysis provides a real opportunity for California’s leaders to identify and act on key areas that will have lasting impacts on our youth. It is important to note that this assessment does not take into account Governor Gavin Newsom’s $4.4 billion Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, included in last year’s budget. The initiative makes historic investments in many facets of youth mental health. It will expand the availability of school-based counselors and coaches, increase the capacity for students to receive school-based behavioral health services, and develop a virtual platform for all California children and youth to access services and tools.

The goal of the Hopeful Futures Campaign is to bring comprehensive school mental health systems to every school in the country so that every child has the opportunity to thrive. The campaign includes a website with an action center so that students, parents, and anyone who wants to make a difference can learn about the state of school mental health where they live, then take direct action to improve their state’s response to the youth mental health crisis.

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