About one in five kids will exhibit some type of severe social-emotional behavioral symptoms that would qualify for some level of support. And yet, very early since the pandemic began, there has been over a 20% increase of kids experiencing depression or anxiety after one month of lockdown with a disproportionate impact on students from minoritized populations.
According to Nathaniel von der Embse, Ph.D., NCSP, Associate Professor of School Psychology at the University of South Florida, and Stephen Kilgus, Ph.D., Associate Professor of School Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there has been an increase of nearly one-third of kids accessing mental health services within an emergency room setting.
In an edLeader Panel, sponsored by Illuminate Education, both Dr. von der Embse and Dr. Kilgus recognize that it’s been tremendously challenging for untold millions of students and families to meet their mental health needs, and COVID-19 has exacerbated some of those existing risk factors. Students ultimately depend on those services delivered within a school setting, and many schools now face the challenge of serving an increased number of kids in need.
When thinking about mental health, it’s important to note that academic success doesn’t always equate to school success. Such things as academic skills, social-emotional skills, and behavioral skills are necessary to benefit from that high-quality instructional environment.
It is critical for school districts to be proactive and use evidence-based approaches towards recognizing the early symptoms and signs of mental health needs.
The most common way to address this systemwide or schoolwide is positive behavioral interventions and supports, or PBIS. Within a PBIS system, any sound Multi-Tiered System of Support should be adequate for about 80% of kids. Tier 2, or more targeted levels of support, should be for about 15%. The most intensive and individualized supports should live at the 5% level.
Evidence-based intervention is dependent on an evidence-based assessment process, and the presenters recommended universal screening using tools such as the Social, Academic, Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS). Universal screeners can be a temperature check for student populations for schools. It can provide schools with an understanding of the prevalence of mental health concerns, measure how students’ behaviors and social well-being have changed throughout COVID-19, and the best course of action in applying for interventions and support across schools.
In terms of data use, both Dr. von der Embse and Dr. Kilgus recommend schools thoroughly plan and develop a base rate, resource map, and intervention guide. Implementation considerations regarding universal screening should include questions such as: “Is the data graphed and sufficient to make decisions?”, “Based on the progress monitoring data, is their progress towards Standards-Based Teaching and Learning?”, and “Based on progress monitoring is the intervention(s) implementation with fidelity?”
Finally, any program that leverages social-emotional behavior data must be looked at through an equity lens. It is essential to train raters, educators, or students in the content and purpose of screening, including implicit bias, as disaggregated data can be a powerful tool to identify inequities in a system.