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Despite Challenges, States are Strengthening the Pipeline of School-Mental Health Staff


Alexandria, VA — As the rate of mental health emergencies among children and young adults has increased over the past decade, so has the need for mental health support services in schools. Yet, according to recent surveys, more than half of public schools lack access to trained school mental health professionals (SMHPs) or report insufficient staff to manage student caseloads. A new NASBE analysis identifies the challenges of attracting and retaining this workforce and highlights several states that are working to build a sustainable pipeline of SMHPs.

SMHPs are essential in ensuring students have a safe and supportive learning environment. They provide vital services through counseling, assessment, coordination of services, and crisis intervention. However, certification requirements, which include hundreds of hours of unpaid practicum experience, often constrain the recruitment of SMHPs, and retaining existing staff is hampered by the need to manage growing caseloads with additional responsibilities and lower earnings.

  • To strengthen the SMHP pipeline and address certification barriers, state education agencies in Virginia and Ohio have created programs that place mental health graduate students in school district positions.
  • Nevada is tackling the issue of heavy caseloads by piloting a program to screen students for mental health issues and connect parents with community mental health providers and telehealth options.
  • Colorado legislation authorizes licensed mental health professionals to practice in a school setting without needing to obtain an additional special services license from the state department of education.
  • While many states are relying on federal funding for school-based mental health services, Michigan and Texas have developed sustainable funding streams through state budgeting to expand mental health services for students.

The analysis also offers questions state leaders can ask to ensure sustainable progress toward staffing schools with SMHPs. The author points to Medicaid as a means for sustainably funding school-based mental health services, and the announcement of new billing guidance and a technical assistance center will aid schools in utilizing these funds.

“School counselors, psychologists, and social workers are essential to a comprehensive system that provides students consistent access to well-integrated school-based mental health services,” writes author Celina Pierrottet. “State leaders can support SMHPs by setting ratios that allow them to fulfill their duties with manageable caseloads while ensuring that schools can maintain a pipeline of professionals.”

Read States Face Challenges Building a School Mental Health Workforce.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

This publication is supported by cooperative agreement CDC-RFA-PS18-1807, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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