In section THREE of the final report, the commission describes the importance of a focus on improving access to mental health services and the critical roles of public schools in keeping children and families connected to each other and to community supports.
“Nearly 20% of adolescents can be classified as socially excluded (i.e., being ignored or excluded by others), an experience that many liken to “social death”. Research has found significant associations between chronic social ostracism and participation in risk behaviors… higher levels of depression and anxiety, peer victimization and aggression… Retrospective studies have reported that chronic social ostracism, especially experienced during high school, is a risk factor for suicidal ideation and attempts during adulthood. In short, social exclusion threatens psychological and behavioral systems that are critical for normal adolescent development, health, and life-longevity.” – Richard Gilman, PhD, Professor, University of Cincinnati Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, written testimony submitted to the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission.
A Few of the Report’s Recommendations for Schools:
– Schools must play a critical role in fostering healthy child development and healthy communities. Healthy social development can be conveyed by role models such as parents, teachers, community leaders, and other adults in children’s lives, but it can also – and should – be actively taught in schools.
– Social-emotional learning must form an integral part of the curriculum from preschool through high school. Social-emotional learning can help children identify and name feelings such as frustration, anger and loneliness that potentially contribute to disruptive and self-destructive behavior. It can also teach children how to employ social problem-solving skills to manage difficult emotional and potentially conflicting situations.
– A sequenced social development curriculum must include anti- bullying strategies. As appropriate, it should also include alcohol and drug awareness as part of a broader substance-abuse prevention curriculum for school-aged children.
– Many of our students and their families live under persistent and pervasive stress that interferes with learning and complicates the educational process. There are many potential resources such as school based health centers that should provide a locus of preventive care, including screenings and referrals for developmental and behavioral difficulties, exposure to toxic stress, and other risk factors, as well as treatment offerings that can address crisis, grief and other stressors. Alternatively, schools can employ the services of community-based mental health providers such as child guidance clinics.
– Schools should form multidisciplinary risk-assessment teams that gather information on and respond supportively to children who may pose a risk to others or face a risk to themselves due to toxic stress, trauma, social isolation or other factors. Schools should look to factors such as social connectedness in identifying children at risk; all school staff should be trained in inquiry-based techniques to apply when disciplinary issues arise in order to deepen their understanding of how children’s behavior can be linked to underlying stressors.
– Schools should work with all providers to enhance community resources and augment services available in schools. For many children schools offer the only real possibility of accessing services, so districts should increase the availability of school guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other school health and behavioral health professionals during and after school as well as potentially on Saturdays.