Friday, January 25, 2013


By Pia Escudero in the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Jan 28 Weekly Update |

image AALA thanks Pia Escudero, Director of School Mental Health (SMH), for submitting the following letter in response to our recommended New Year’s Resolutions for District leadership.

Jan 24, 2013 :: It was with great inspiration and hope that I read about AALA’s call for identifying and allocating the resources necessary to provide adequate mental health services and support for students and their families. I write on behalf of over 300 SMH professionals who are dedicated to promoting the mental health, well-being and academic achievement of all LAUSD students. In light of recent national and local events of school violence, we recognize the sense of urgency to promote a unified and collaborative approach and response to ensuring the safety of all our students and staff. LAUSD SMH continues to be nationally recognized for its crisis intervention and mental health programs.

Over the last two decades, SMH has paved the way in prevention and intervention practices for preparation and response to school violence and providing trauma-informed services. For example, since 2005, SMH has been funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) to implement the Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resiliency, Hope and Wellness in Schools, in partnership with RAND, UCLA and USC. Our administrators and staff, guided by nationally recognized researchers and academicians, have developed evidence-based practices, tools, and resources for LAUSD students, families, and staff. These coveted tools and practices have been disseminated and adopted by other states and school districts, such as New Orleans, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

LAUSD SMH Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services has worked collaboratively with multidisciplinary administrative teams to develop and implement policies and protocols as they relate to risk assessment and management, including threats, suicidal ideation and workplace violence incidents. Furthermore, our internal and external partnerships with School Operations, Los Angeles School Police, General Counsel, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles Police Department and other local law enforcement and community-based agencies have paved the way to addressing and mitigating critical events and violence in our school communities. Recently, we have launched several updates to LAUSD policies that promote a safe learning and work environment for all:

BUL-5799.0 Threat Assessment and Management

• BUL-5798.0 Workplace Violence, Bullying and Threats Prevention

• BUL-2637.1 Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention

SMH is committed to ensuring the academic achievement of all students. As a unit, we are devoted to improvements at both the policy level and in the classroom. Recent research demonstrates that when students are exposed to traumatic or stressful events, it impacts brain functioning, which leads them to “fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults.” ¹ SMH professionals support positive student connections with peers, family, school and community by facilitating their ability to successfully deal with problems, crises and traumatic experiences. We foster resiliency (the ability to bounce back from challenges with confidence and coping capacity) by promoting healthy relationships, self-reflection and problem-solving skills. We are invested in creating trauma-informed schools across LAUSD.

Currently, the District leads the nation with the greatest number of trained school mental health clinicians in nationally-recognized, trauma-informed and evidence-based practices to improve clinical mental health symptoms so students may engage in learning. Nevertheless, in comparison to our student population and number of employees, SMH is extremely small. Our ratio per student is approximately 1:2,200, in comparison to the National standard, established by NASW, 1:250. The reality is that the need for students and families to have access to mental health services is significant. Last year alone, SMH lost funding for over 40 FTE Psychiatric Social Workers (PSW) positions as a result of reductions in school and program discretionary dollars. School and program administrators have had to face the difficult decision of selecting between mental health or other support services on their campus. This year, one school in particular lost the PSW position they had kept as part of their staff for over 20 years.

Thank you for your appeal to increase our opportunity to better serve our students and school community.

Your acknowledgment is two-fold: (1) It helps to reduce the stigma associated with accessing mental health services; (2) It highlights the need to fund mental health services in our schools. As we move forward as a District, ensuring the mental health and well-being of all students will be a collective effort. With highly trained, skilled and adaptive Psychiatric Social Workers, SMH is ready and available to provide services to aid in recovery and healing so that students may return to normalcy and continue to learn and grow.


¹  Jane Ellen Stevens:  Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools

photo: from the late lamented L.A. Youth

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