When children are struggling with mental health issues, their performance at school is often one of the first indicators. Your child’s teachers are in the unique position to observe their academic performance, day-to-day mood, interactions with peers and authority figures, and overall functioning in an environment full of social rules and expectations. Teachers have their eyes on many factors that indicate your child’s well-being; and they also have the ability to see changes over the course of the school year. Depending on the size of the school and community, teachers may also have knowledge of your child’s activities and social life outside of the classroom.
For all of these reasons, teachers play an important role in connecting children with mental health resources when needed. As a parent striving to take care of a child with mental health concerns, it’s important for you to know who’s on your team – who you can reach out to at your child’s school to ensure your child gets the support and care they need.
The Mental Health Team at Your Child’s School
The School Counselor
Schools vary greatly in size, resources, staffing, and community involvement; however, one position that is generally available to all schools is a school counselor. The school counselor’s role includes:
- Providing academic and career guidance
- Providing support for social and emotional problems
While a school counselor is often limited in what kind of intervention they can initiate, they can be a tremendous resource around mental health concerns. They are also trained and able to facilitate referrals to mental health professionals in the school district and in the community.
The School Psychologist
In addition to a school counselor, many schools or districts have a social worker and/or a psychologist on staff. These professionals are able to do some or all of the following:
- Meet with students to provide support
- Consult with administrators, teachers and parents
- Implement behavior management skills for positive social and classroom interactions
- Provide crisis intervention
- Provide counseling and psychological testing
Social Services Staff
For on-campus support, another possible helpful resource in many schools is the presence of an outside social service agency with staff embedded in the school. This may come in the form of organizations such as Communities in Schools or City Year, which places caring adults who are often social workers, social service professionals, and/or AmeriCorps members onto campuses to support at-risk students.
These agencies often provide case management services plus on-campus academic and social support, and they work toward building connections between school, family and community resources to support students in need.
The Mental Health Team in Your Community
Outside of your child’s school, additional resources exist in the community to which you can reach out to if you are concerned about your child’s mental well-being. Depending on the size of your town or city, the number of accessible and affordable options will vary greatly. It can be difficult to keep a pulse on the agencies and resources that support children and families; you may find it helpful to attend a local community resource fair. It’s a great way to become more familiar with public, non-profit, and faith-based service providers.
Of course, you can always reach out to your child’s pediatrician when you have concerns. A pediatrician can provide a physical exam to rule out medical conditions and will help you better utilize the healthcare system. They can help you understand your insurance options, and work with you to identify appropriate mental health resources.
We know you work hard to educate yourself and prepare your child for the milestones ahead. Know the warning signs of possible mental health problems, and don’t hesitate to reach and find support in the team at school. A team approach — with families, healthcare professionals, mental health providers, educators, and social-emotional support sources all working together — can change lives and outcomes during these formative years.