DOVER — The Capital School District presented its new “multi-tiered system of supports” Wednesday, aiming to meet its students’ academic, social, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs.
The state, led by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, began its Behavioral Health Consortium in 2019 to address mental health and addiction challenges. In schools, it has led to supporting social emotional learning — “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions,” as defined by The Kennedy Forum, one of the state’s partners.
Districts such as Capital, Colonial and Indian River have created new courses which integrate social emotional learning in recent years.
Lt. Gov. Hall-Long credited Capital’s holistic approach to a student’s mental health, from prevention to critical-emergency care.
“They’ve been able to utilize counselors, treatment and programs to really bolster not only academic learning but personal and social well-being,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said.
“With COVID, it’s been even more challenging with families and stress — parents losing jobs or perhaps unfortunately turning to substances because of the opioid crisis. We heard about really unique programs here working with the community and surrounding hospitals. It’s a system that isn’t cookie cutter. It’s individualized to the child.”
Amy Kennedy, education director of The Kennedy Forum, said the need for behavioral health services is amplified now as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association all declared a national emergency in children’s mental health this month, citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges.
“We all want our students to be successful and this is life-saving work,” she said. “This is the direction we need to be moving in and everywhere around the country needs to hear about these kinds of innovations and these models. This isn’t going away. It’s not new because of COVID, but it’s worse.”
Capital hosted Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, Ms. Kennedy along with district administrators, teachers, social workers, counselors and other local clinicians for a roundtable Wednesday to present its findings from a recent “Trauma and School Connectedness Taskforce” district meeting.
The district recommended three policies to help sustain mental health success in its students:
• Provide permanent mental health funding to local education agencies that will allow them to meet the mental health needs of students, families and staff.
• Introduce more flexibility around licensure and use of funds.
• Fund wellness centers at high-need elementary and middle schools.
Lt. Gov. Hall-Long added state leadership in the House and Senate has ensured mental health counselors are in every school and some community programs. In-person learning has also resumed at all Delaware schools, which she said has helped ease access to faculty members, nurses, guidance counselors and coaches for those in need.
Ms. Kennedy, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, who is the founder of The Kennedy Forum, said Delaware’s emphasis on behavioral health in schools could become a model for the rest of the country.
“Many people look to Delaware as a state that could really be a model,” Ms. Kennedy said. “It has the ability to pilot things and bring it to scale because of its size. If you can do that here, it will get a lift to be a model for other places.”