How schools can address mental health to reduce school violence

By partnering with a managed care plan, an urban school district brought mental health resources into its schools

With another school shooting just down the road from me last month, it was sobering to see parents and community members leaving positive Post-it notes and sidewalk chalk messages to encourage children to walk into schools. We have been told school violence is caused by loss of civility in society, video games, pornography, and guns themselves. Without arguing the pros and cons of the Second Amendment, it is clear to me that people shooting into schools have mental health issues. Adding additional law enforcement presence tends to provide a better reaction in the case of crisis, but educators would generally avoid the crisis by proactively addressing the needs of the children.

Mental health and childhood trauma
Addressing the socio-emotional or mental health issues of children continues to be the one thing many agree can help curb violence in schools. We believe it is essential to address the needs of the entire family. More children are entering the schoolhouse as survivors of some level of trauma due to everything from substance abuse in the household to being the child of a veteran still coping with the aftereffects of deployment.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides an excellent overview of the populations most at risk as well as resources for educators to address the impact of trauma among their students. The concept of trauma-informed teaching is expanding in a range of academic circles.

Addressing the whole family
Recognizing the need to address mental health issues in our community, Muncie (IN) Community Schools (MCS) worked with Meridian Health to develop a Behavior Family Navigator (BFN) program where mental health professionals would be embedded into the MCS schools to work with school staff and families to support student success. About 75 percent of MCS students are in a single-parent home. The goal was for the BFNs to provide in-school and in-home services for children and their families to create a more stable and supportive home environment. If a parent had a substance-abuse issue, the BFN addressed it through the need to remove that as a barrier for student success. As has been mentioned in many forums, all parents want the best for their children, but many don’t know how to help them be successful.

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