NYS Comptroller: School staff needs more mental health training

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – An audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office that sampled twenty school districts found that most did not provide mental health training to all staff as required by New York State Education Department (SED) regulations.

"Failure to recognize signs of mental health challenges in students can have devastating consequences," New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. "School personnel are often the first to notice if a student is having mental health challenges and they need effective training to help them understand the signs and symptoms early on. Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for students, staff, families and communities."

Eighteen of 20 districts (90%) either did not offer mental health training or provided training that lacked some or all the recommended components, including how to access crisis support and recognize warning signs.

The Canandaigua City School District was only one of two of the 20 randomly selected districts that offered training with all of the suggested mental health components.

NYSED requires districts train staff on the warning signs of anxiety and behavioral disorders, eating disorders, mood and obsessive-compulsive disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, substance abuse, and trauma and stress-related disorders.

“This is not a condemnation of the districts but more of a call to action to let them know that there are things they could be doing and should be doing in today’s world to give their staff the tools to deal with the crisis that we’re all seeing,” Deputy Comptroller Elliott Auerbach tells News10NBC.

The audit looked to see if staff members for the 2020-2021 school year were trained by September 15 2020 as required by the regulations.

Livonia Central School District was also part of the audit. It missed the deadline for training on some of the disorders but Superintendent Matthew Cole tells News10NBC that’s because he thought it was best for students’ mental health, to get them back into the classroom.

"We knew the best thing for kids was to be open five days a week and that’s what we were focused on that September.” The training, Cole says, was completed one month later and the district has kept up with it since.

Like many districts, Livonia also says it has added to its team of mental health professionals inside the school buildings.

“We all know that this is something that we probably always needed but certainly with the pandemic and with other kinds of social things that are rolling through, we definitely need to provide as many supports as we possibly can to students,” Cole says.

Especially because across the region, there is a shortage of mental health providers for children outside of school.

“There are definitely shortages and it’s difficult to get into places so that’s where we have tried to provide more intermediary supports,” he says. “Again that kind of clinical setting and support is very important and needed but in the near-term when maybe you can’t find access, how do we build more so we’ve added social workers were adding school psychologists.”

View the full comptroller report here.