More than a dozen school districts in New York lack mental health staff and programs, while hundreds more do not have enough social workers or counselors to aid children who are facing challenges.
Schools across New York state entered the pandemic with too few mental health programs and staff. That's according to an audit released this week by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who said change is needed in form of more funding for schools to handle what is considered to be a crisis of mental health in schools.
At the same time, DiNapoli called for more oversight of mental health education in classrooms and schools in the state.
"There hasn't been as much follow-up in terms of the oversight of how these services are being provided in our schools," he said this week in an interview.
The audit covered a three-year period in schools from 2018 to 2021. During that time, students and teachers faced the disruption of the pandemic and remote learning. The American Psychological Association last year found more than 80% of teens have experienced school-related stress due to COVID-19.
Mental health programming in schools is also viewed as what's known as an upstream policy, especially for public safety — in other words, if a service can help a child today, it could prevent problems in the future.
"We need to put a greater priority and greater resources on mental health in our schools," DiNapoli said. "Hopefully we can avoid some of these situations that are really getting out of hand."
But in many instances, schools during that time did not have enough resources — including professional staff.
"The ratio of the number of students to counselors and psychologists and other kinds of staff and those dedicated to mental health -- New York falls short in many of those measures," DiNapoli said.
That could change, as schools are being infused with cash from the state and federal governments.
"We don't know necessarily what will guarantee success, but I think what will guarantee failure is a lack of funding," Jay Worona, the general counsel of the New York School Boards Association.
Schools are placing a greater emphasis on mental health programs and counseling as part of the return to classrooms.
"I am convinced that things have got to get better when we're investing in this kind of enterprise and hopefully we will see some changes that are long lasting," Worona said.