Need for more men­tal health care re­sources for at-risk stu­dents

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Opinion - By Bradley Jaffe

As we com­mem­o­rate the one-year an­niver­sary of the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, many par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents are ask­ing if schools are safer to­day and more pre­pared for the risk of mass school shoot­ings and vi­o­lence. While there is no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence to sug­gest we are — or are not — safer, the ini­tial Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion re­port from the state out­lines a de­tailed time­line of events that led up to the shoot­ing and a chap­ter-by-chap­ter guide on how we can mit­i­gate fu­ture catas­tro­phes.

The re­port, which in­cluded tes­ti­mony from state law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, school board mem­bers, par­ents and other com­mu­nity lead­ers, pro­vided rec­om­men­da­tions for school safety. Among them was a greater need for a more com­pre­hen­sive and ef­fec­tive set of cri­te­ria that fo­cuses on the men­tal health as­pects and po­ten­tial warn­ing signs for would-be school shoot­ers.

The PROM­ISE pro­gram, which aims to re­form and pro­vide “skills” to at-risk stu­dents is ef­fec­tive, in the­ory, but has proven to be not only in­ef­fec­tive.

Stu­dents who rou­tinely en­gage in mi­nor crimes, tru­ancy, fight­ing and mi­nor drug pos­ses­sions should not fall off the radar of lo­cal school dis­tricts. As was the case with the Park­land shooter (whose name shall not be men­tioned), a more dys­func­tional, dan­ger­ous and se­verely de­ranged iden­tity was a tick­ing time bomb who left a trail of threats and warn­ing signs.

Rather than con­tinue to sup­port this pro­gram, the state leg­is­la­ture should per­ma­nently fund school so­cial work­ers/ ther­a­pists who pri­or­i­tize stu­dents who are most at risk (evad­ing the law, phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion, bul­ly­ing, lack of ad­her­ence to so­cial norms, etc.). A manda­tory 4-6 ses­sion eval­u­a­tion, that is com­piled by school so­cial work­ers and con­tracted pri­vate ther­a­pists should de­ter­mine the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of a stu­dent’s well-be­ing and course of treat­ment.

Com­mu­nity men­tal health cen­ters are over­whelmed and ill-pre­pared to de­vote time and ex­pe­ri­enced clin­i­cians to eval­u­ate men­tal derangement.

Ad­di­tion­ally, lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments should be el­i­gi­ble for state-wide and na­tional grants that set up spe­cial teams of law en­force­ment, men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and school of­fi­cials to eval­u­ate real-time risk on so­cial me­dia and re­ports of threats. This can al­low lo­cal of­fi­cials to triage cri­sis in­ter­ven­tions to those who want to cause harm.

Most of the de­bate sur­round­ing the mass shoot­ing in Park­land has been cen­tered around on-site safety pro­to­cols and gun con­trol. While these are im­por­tant ar­eas to de­bate, we should be­gin with more com­pre­hen­sive and col­lab­o­ra­tive men­tal health care.

Rather than con­tinue to sup­port this pro­gram, the state leg­is­la­ture should per­ma­nently fund school so­cial work­ers/ther­a­pists who pri­or­i­tize stu­dents who are most at risk.

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