Expanding mental health care for Texas children became a rallying cry among Republican politicians in the days after the Uvalde school shooting, and in late June they made it part of their plan to keep Texas school children safe.
Unfortunately, this is a small part.
Only $10.5 million of the $105 million school safety plan announced by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is earmarked for children’s mental health this year, with the rest earmarked for the fortifications of school security, including $50 million to purchase bulletproof shields for police officers.
Investing more in children’s mental health could help prevent school shootings while helping improve the lives of countless Texas children. In many cases of school shootings, the perpetrators are young men who were bullied, isolated, or showed signs of antisocial behavior that could have been resolved with prior mental health intervention. The profile of the 18-year-old shooter at Uvalde would have ticked all of those boxes.
A new report from Texas Cares for Children, an Austin-based nonprofit advocacy group, reveals deteriorating mental health among young Texans over the past decade and shows an urgent need for expanded mental health services. The report found that between 2009 and 2019, the number of Texas high school students reporting having attempted suicide jumped 35%. Between 2015 and 2022, rates of major depression among young people in Texas soared 73%. More than 2,600 Texas children are waiting for mental health services through the state’s YES Waiver program. The report also warns that federal funding for youth mental health services provided during the pandemic is expiring, leaving more gaps in care for children in Texas.
In the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers from both parties have approved bills to provide additional mental health counseling to young people in Texas, including expanded access to tele-mental health services and a requirement for community mental health centers to dedicate a counselor as a resource for school districts. . We welcome these efforts, but the state must do more. Texas lawmakers should not only direct funds to help students most at risk of violent behavior, as the $10.5 million set aside in the governor’s 2022 school safety plan does, but also expand the access during the next legislative session to services that help other children in Texas fight depression. , suicidal thoughts and other harmful impulses.
This means building the capacity of publicly funded community mental health centers to provide crisis services, individual and family counseling, medication management, family peer support and service coordination to provide comprehensive care. to families. These services have been proven to help children with mental health issues and reduce hospitalizations and involvement in the juvenile justice and foster care systems, said Josette Saxton, director of mental health policy for Texans. Care for Children, to our Board of Directors.
Texas schools need more money for counselors and teacher training to help students deal with bullying and conflict resolution, but the state legislature is resisting giving money to the Texas Education Association or local school districts for this purpose.
Saxton said the mental health funding included in the recently announced school safety program is intended only for young people with particularly violent or antisocial tendencies.
“These investments aren’t really helping school districts address the day-to-day issues they see in all children,” she said.
Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, has worked extensively on mental health issues in the Legislative Assembly, including sponsoring bills to address cyberbullying. He told our council that he plans to introduce a bill that would help increase the number of counselors available to Texas school children. He hopes that after the Uvalde massacre, Republicans will keep their promise to tackle the mental health of young people, especially inside the walls of schools.
“The reality is that our kids need access to mental health in school because a lot of parents don’t have the resources for it,” Menendez said.
We urge all Texans who care about the welfare of the state’s children to reach out to their lawmakers and ask them to support bills that will give children more tools to work despite their emotional struggles.
The decline in the mental health of Texas children described in the Texas Cares for Children report should cause us all concern. We hope the Texas Legislature heeds the nonprofit’s recommendations and gives schools and mental health providers the resources they need.
Our children deserve no less.