While we are well on our way to the COVID-19 pandemic being in our rearview mirror, the social restrictions and school closures over the past year have shined a light on another crisis the mental health of our nation’s youth. That is why we must ensure that schools are fully open this fall.
Research has shown that school closures reduced interactions between vulnerable children and trusted adults, while worsening conditions that contribute to child abuse and neglect such as financial strain and social isolation.
During the pandemic, emergency departments throughout the nation saw an increase in the proportion of children’s mental healthrelated visits.
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), “Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental healthrelated ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental healthrelated visits for children aged 511 and 1217 years increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively.”
I’ve heard from families for whom these numbers are more than just statistics.
Last month, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on students with disabilities. During the hearing, we heard from a father of two special needs children who was forced to watch his nine-year-old son deteriorate before his eyes and be admitted to a hospital because of the mental toll from social isolation. His wife was forced to quit her job and homeschool their nine-year-old daughter after their public school failed to meet their daughter’s learning needs. No family should have to go through this.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the mental health crisis, even before the virus reached our shores the CDC reported suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school-aged youths a heartbreaking statistic.
We must ensure our students are able to get the support they need. That’s why I’ve introduced H.R 787, the Expanding Student Access to Mental Health Services Act.
My legislation provides school districts with increased flexibility in how they can use funds from an existing grant program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to better provide mental health services for students. Schools know best the needs of their student bodies and should have flexibility in how they use funding to better meet those needs.
Specifically, the bill would allow funds to be used to identify and disseminate best practices for mental health first aid; assist in the establishment or implementation of emergency planning, including deploying emergency response teams at schools during an emergency; establish relationships with local health agencies to improve coordination of services; and to provide telehealth services, a vital tool to ensure any potential future school closures do not diminish the ability to serve vulnerable students.
By giving school districts the ability to provide students with additional resources and services, we can empower our next generation and help them to thrive both inside and outside of the classroom.
There is a lot of work to be done to address the mental health crisis, and passing the Expanding Student Access to Mental Health Services Act will bring us one step closer to doing so and help save lives.
• U.S. Representative Rick Allen, Georgia Republican, represents the 12th Congressional District. Prior to his election to Congress in 2014, he owned a construction company and was awarded the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce Small Business Person of the Year. He serves as the Senior Republican on the Health, Employment, Labor & Pensions Subcommittee on the Education and Labor Committee as well as on Agriculture Committee.