CHARLESTON — In addressing the opioid impact on the state’s children, West Virginia lawmakers are taking a closer look at the availability of counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses in schools.
During the 2017-18 school year, 36 of West Virginia’s 55 counties did not have a full-time social worker employed, and seven counties did not have a full-time psychologist employed. All counties had at least one full-time counselor and one full-time school nurse.
“If we don’t do something about the mental health crisis students are dealing with, we can’t make an impact on achievement,” said Michele Blatt, Assistant Superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education.
As Christina Mullins noted during the Joint Committee on Health meeting, adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs), such as sexual abuse or the incarceration of a parent, can negatively impact the mental and physical health of the state’s children.
Mullins, director of the Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health, said a survey of West Virginia children found 28.8 percent had experienced drug abuse within the household; 26.6 percent had gone through parental separation; and 22.7 percent had experienced verbal abuse. One in 10 reported having been sexually abused before age 18.
“The opioid epidemic is fueling a lot of what’s going on,” Mullins said.
West Virginia leads the nation in overdose death rates, as well as babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), withdrawal due to exposure of drugs in utero. The Mountain State is also leading the nation for the number of children removed from their homes and placed in the state’s custody.
In schools, counselors are charged with prevention and targeted interventions, and providing counseling individually and in groups. Psychologists are tasked with conducting and analyzing assessment procedures and integrating findings into an intervention plan, as well as counseling.
Social workers focus on obtaining and coordinating community resources to meet students’ needs, including mental health needs, as well as developing positive behavioral intervention strategies and providing crisis intervention. Nurses take care of daily medical management and care for students, including mental health needs.
Statewide, there were 726.33 counselors, 129.5 psychologists, 58.3 social workers and 305.42 school nurses employed last school year.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Blatt said. “We need to make sure we get the staff in the schools that need them the most.”
She also noted the lack of professionals available to fill needed positions.
“There’s only one program we have in the state that has a degree for a master’s in school psychology,” she said. “While it would be great to have one in every school, I’m not sure there are enough people out there to fill that need.”
The Joint Committee on Education has requested a list of best practices and the professionals most needed in the school systems.
Blatt named several resources and training opportunities showing promise in West Virginia, including:
• Project AWARE — A grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Office of Special Education to address mental health needs of PreK-12 students, ages 3 to 21. The grant funding is for all 55 counties in the development of mental health services and supports.
• Youth Mental Health First Aid — This eight-hour public education program helps build understanding of the importance of early intervention and teaches individuals how to help an adolescent in crisis or experiencing a mental health challenge.
• Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) — With a goal of making schools effective and efficient, PBIS teaches behavior expectations in the same way as any core curriculum subject. The program aims to decrease aggressive behavior and bullying, and build positive relationships and improve academic outcomes.
• MU Behavior Resource Technical Assistance Center — As an extension of the WVDE Office of Special Education, the center provides coaching and support to schools. The center provides four behavioral health support specialists, and three positive behavioral intervention and support trainers.
Fayette County: 0 full-time social workers; 3 full-time psychologists; 18 full-time counselors; and 5 full-time nurses.
Greenbrier County: 2 full-time social workers; 0 full-time psychologists; 17 full-time counselors; and 4 full-time nurses.
McDowell County: 2 full-time social workers; 2 full-time psychologists; 11 full-time counselors; and 2 full-time nurses.
Mercer County: 4.5 full-time social workers; 1 full-time psychologists; 25 full-time counselors; and 7 full-time nurses.
Monroe County: 1 full-time social worker; 1 full-time psychologist; 6 full-time counselors; and 1 full-time nurse.
Nicholas County: 0 full-time social workers; 1 full-time psychologist; 7 full-time counselors; and 3 full-time nurses.
Raleigh County: 4 full-time social workers; 3 full-time psychologists; 31.5 full-time counselors; and 14 full-time nurses.
Summers County: 0 full-time social workers; 0 full-time psychologists; 5 full-time counselors; and 1.5 full-time nurses.
Wyoming County: 0 full-time social workers;1 full-time psychologist; 9.5 full-time counselors; and 4 full-time nurses.