Some 300,000 Californian children ages 4 to 11 years have mental health needs, but more than 70% never receive treatment, according to Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella.
For youth in poverty or with non-English-speaking parents, more than 80 percent never receive treatment for their mental health needs.
Garcia, along with Assemblymember Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, introduced Assembly Bill 8. It addresses Pupil health: mental health professionals.
This bill would require that, on or before Dec. 31, 2022, a school of a school district or county office of education and a charter school have at least one mental health professional, for every 400 pupils accessible to pupils on campus during school hours.
The bill would also require that, on or before Dec. 31, 2022, a school of a school district or county office of education and a charter school with fewer than 400 pupils to have at least one mental health professional accessible to pupils on campus during school hours.
Currently, the state of California ranks last or near last in the country for pupil access to mental health care at school. Currently, California has one school nurse for every 2,240 pupils, ranking 39th in the country, and one school counselor for every 792 pupils, ranking last in the country. Additionally, the state has only one school psychologist for every 1,265 pupils and one school social worker for every 12,870 pupils.
AB 8 is one of multiple bills Garcia, a former educator, has advanced to improve special education (AB 236) and special needs services (AB 1643), and enhance access to mental well-being resources in schools.
“We have a responsibility to invest in our children and make sure they are equipped with every possible opportunity to succeed,” Garcia said.
After soliciting feedback from residents and local partners, Garcia said he is rolling out several legislative proposals that would offer more support for special-education programs, revamp the childcare reimbursement system, ensure high-quality teachers and substitutes, as well as guarantee that students are able to access mental health services while at school.
“Mental wellness resources are essential, most especially for our developing youth,” Garcia said. “As our state makes strides to improve our educational system, we cannot neglect to address mental health. AB 8 will require that mental health services be available on campus and help us to achieve safer, healthier, and conducive learning environments for our students.”
In 2014, an estimated 22.5 million Americans 12 years of age or older reported needing treatment for a substance use disorder, and 11.8 million adults reported needing mental health treatment, according to support documentation for the bill.
Mental health disorders and substance use disorders share some underlying causes, including changes in brain composition, genetic vulnerabilities, and early exposure to stress or trauma.
Garcia and Chu maintain say that 57 percent of Californian children have experienced trauma. Research shows that people with mental well-being issues are at a higher risk of a substance use disorder.
Both mental health issues and substance use disorders in pupils can lead to absenteeism, suspensions, and dropping out of school at an early age, according to Garcia. Schools have been identified as the optimal place to provide mental health services and improve access to mental health services for pupils, especially pupils of color and pupils in historically underserved communities.
Reflecting on incidents of violence on school campuses, national educator and school professional organizations recommend improving access to school-based mental well-being support by ensuring adequate staffing levels of school-employed mental health professionals, according to Garcia. The recommendations are in published best practices for creating safe and successful schools,
- Eduarco Garcia: Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia
- Mental Health: Shutterstock