FRANKFORT, Ky. — A lack of resources to meet the mental health needs of students was at the forefront of discussions among state lawmakers and others on the state’s juvenile justice oversight council on Thursday. 

What You Need To Know

  • Education leaders presented changes they'd like to see made concerning student mental health issues

  • Changes centered on diversion plans

  • Those are pathways for students to seek  behavioral and treatment services and avoid jail time

  • The Juvenile Justice Oversight Council includes lawmakers, the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice and others

A four-member panel, comprising district leaders and the executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, presented changes they’d like to be seen made to combat this. 

Those changes centered on diversion plans. These plans are designed to keep kids out of state detention centers when they commit offenses, and instead connect them with behavioral and treatment services. 

The group would like to have these plans tailored on a case-by-case basis to better serve the needs of students. 

Dr. Carrie Ballinger, Superintendent of Rockcastle County Schools, was one panelist who laid out the issues her small district faces concerning mental health and students. 

“Public schools are not equipped to deal with the severe behavior issues we’re seeing, we’re not equipped to deal the psychiatric and violent behaviors that we’re seeing,” Dr. Ballinger said. “It’s not for a lack of trying because we’re giving it everything we have to serve our kids, but we need more support.”

Dr. Ballinger added that failing to meet the needs of vulnerable children constitutes “the greatest threat to public education right now.”

One of the others who spoke to the council was Todd Hazel, the Director of Student Services for Warren County Public Schools. Hazel is also a licensed clinical social worker and says in the last few years, he’s seen much more support from the state in providing more support for mental health services.

“If students don’t have their mental health, they cannot sit in math, science, and social studies and learn,” Hazel said. 

Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Fruit Hill), who co-chairs the council, hopes that the changes recommended Thursday can be implemented. 

“First, they need more resources. I think you saw particularly near the end of the meeting, you heard a clear message that there’s a behavioral health service gap for juveniles and we’re seeing that around the state in different places. I think we need to throw serious money at that service provision network,” Westerfield said. 

Both parties agree on implementing changes, Westerfield said. 

“Having people wanting to make those changes is the first step, so I’m optimistic that we’ll see that, either informally through agency action and if need be through legislative action,” he said. 

Members of the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council include lawmakers, the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Commissioner ​of Behavioral Health, plus several others.