HD9 - Final Report on Mental Health Screening in Public Elementary Schools (HJR 586, 2015)

Executive Summary:
The 2015 General Assembly charged the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) with studying the benefits of offering voluntary mental health screening to students in public elementary schools. DBHDS developed a two-year study plan and implementation timeline that focused on the following areas:

• Review existing research on screening of elementary school children and whether there is an ideal year to administer such screenings;

• Review available screening instruments that may be appropriate for elementary school children;

• Recommend methods of notifying parents of the availability of screening and recommend procedures for seeking parental consent; and

• Consider what in-school and other services may be available for children whose screening indicates a need for follow-up.

During the first year of study, DBHDS reviewed and researched background information and convened a workgroup of experts to advise on mental health screening in elementary schools. Topics of consideration for the expert panels included themes on current practice and ideal best practices. The work of these panels was expanded when the workgroup met during the second year of the study to develop a screening process.

The workgroup identified the “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire” as an initial screening instrument and “The Behavioral and Emotional Screening Syste”m as a secondary screening instrument to administer to second graders. Additionally, during the second year of study, a process was developed to administer a screening tool, ensure parental notification about the screening process, and identify follow up services.

The workgroup strongly supports the concept that early intervention with the appropriate infrastructure can reduce future more serious emotional disturbances for many children. To that end, the workgroup made the following recommendations:

• Provide funding to the Department of Education for three pilots to be implemented in Virginia schools, including:

* Placing and funding a Screening Coordinator in each pilot school;

* Making available and funding a contracted Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP) in each pilot school; and

* Decreasing the current ratio of school counselors to students and include school psychological, school social work, and school nursing services at each pilot school.

• Provide funding for general mental health education for all school employees.