SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

MENTAL HEALTH

It is normal for children and youth to experience various types of emotional distress as they develop and mature. Let’s be honest, today’s youth are dealing with a wide assortment of topics and stressors that many of us did not experience when we were there age. There is widespread cyberbullying, drug exposure, immigration issues, unstable home lives, body shaming, community violence and abuse just to name a few.

Some students are not equipped with the “tools” to effectively handle their emotions in situations. Sometimes these students will act out in school, not to get attention but to get help and guidance.  As a society we need to look more closely at these “difficult” students to figure out if there is an underlying issue or if it is typical ‘kid’ behavior. When symptoms persist, it may be time to seek professional assistance.

Here are some suggestions for Parents:

It’s okay to make mistakes.  Unfortunately, when you child is born the hospital does not send you home with a manual on how to raise them and address issues that might pop-up. Remember that you are human and you will make mistakes and its okay. Seek out parent support groups so that you can interact with other parents who are dealing with similar struggles. Keep trying until you find the thing(s) that work best for you and your child.

Conversation Matters. Let your child know that they can speak to you about anything they are thinking about without judgment. Let them know that you are there to help them with their thoughts, feelings and/or situations they are dealing with. Be sure you do not get angry or pass judgment. Really listen to what they have to say – you do not have to agree with them but they need to know you hear them. Depending on what they express to you, it may be wise to seek professional support for them.

Parental Presentation. Create a safe haven for them when they are struggling and/or in crisis. Let them know that you will give them some time and space to settle down. When you do talk to them, use a low and soft tone of voice and short statements.  Do your best to remain calm and stable during this period so that your stress does not exacerbate their feelings. Help them process by asking them questions that help them critically think about what they went through “What can you do the next time you are in a situation like this?” or “What made you feel better the last time you felt this way?”

Here are some suggestions for Teachers:

Start Fresh. Do not allow other colleagues opinions of a student cloud your judgment before you get to know the student yourself. Develop your own relationship with the student and ask them what works well for them when they are struggling.

Use your experience to guide you not to limit you. As a former teacher, I can still remember the names of the most “difficult” students that I worked with. I had to constantly remind myself that each student is different and just because Billy and Johnny have the same behaviors, it does not mean the same techniques and approaches that worked for Billy will work for Johnny.

Be Patient. Most of my “difficult” students wanted to do well in school and wanted a positive relationship with me and their peers. I disagreed with colleagues who called these students “slackers” and/or “trouble makers.” I sometimes had to remind myself that turning in a worksheet might not be high up on the student’s to do list especially if they are dealing with abuse and/or neglect at home.  I would find the good in what the student did and praised it so that they knew I was paying attention and their had work was not being overlooked.

Be supportive. Review your student’s IEP to see what suggestions are stated therein. Reach out to the school’s guidance counselor and see if there are any evidence-based programs that you could easily implement into your classroom routines. It would not only support your “difficult” child but the entire class as a whole. 

When should you seek additional support? 

  • If it's an emergency in which you or someone you know is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.

  • If you can wait a few days, make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or pediatrician if you think your child's condition is mild to moderate.

  • If your child's symptoms are moderate to severe, make an appointment with a specialized doctor such as a psychiatrist. You may need to contact your community mental health center or primary health care provider for a referral.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

IS YOUR CHILD HABITUALLY TRUANT DUE TO THEIR SPECIAL NEEDS?

If your child is habitually truant due to their special needs, you need to be aware of the February, 2018  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case "Millis Public Schools v. M.P. & others".

Stressed Truant Student

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently heard a case involving M.P., a 15-year old girl with multiple diagnoses including OCD, PTSD, anxiety disorder, autism and a severe bladder condition; who was referred to the juvenile court as a child requiring assistance (CRA) on the grounds that she was habitually truant by her school district, Millis Public Schools.

M.P. was offered several alternative educational learning opportunities. Some of these alternatives included attending an online high school, a therapeutic program – with a shortened day, private tutoring at home, private tutoring at the library, and finally a special education day school. M.P. failed to consistently attend any of these alternative educational settings. At all times relevant, M.P. expressed her desire to attend school and to do well in school. She often expressed disappointment when she was unable to attend. M.P. and her family fought the CRA referral on the grounds that she was unable to attend school not because of her willfulness but due to her medical issues.

Under the children requiring assistance (CRA) statute, a child “willfully fails to attend school” if the child’s repeated failure to attend school arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior. CRA petitions can be filed where a child who is of compulsory school attendance age is “habitually truant.” The statute allows the juvenile court to change a child’s custody by placing them in the home of relative or an out-of-home placement if the judge determines the child “willfully failed to attend school for more than eight school days in a quarter.” The purpose of the CRA statute is well meaning. It has been established by multiples studies, that children who are not in school are more likely to get caught up in behaviors that may lead to delinquency and ultimately involvement in the court system. Allowing school districts to identify students who are habitually absent, is meant to help these students get support and hopefully help them prevent making negative life choices. 

Unfortunately, the CRA statute is frequently used when students with disabilities cannot attend school due to their emotional, social, medical and/or academic conditions. These students are often referred to the juvenile court system instead of steps being taken to support them and their needs. Many of these students with special needs are removed from their homes as a result of the CRA referral, which further exacerbates their condition instead of helping to alleviate some of their issues.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a juvenile court judge can only find that a child is truant if the child is absent from school “purposefully, such that his or her behavior arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior.” To put it another way, the Supreme Judicial Court found that a child’s absence must be more than “merely voluntary or intentional,” the juvenile court must look “into a student’s purpose in missing school.” The Court emphasized that “a finding of willfulness is a fact-based inquiry that will depend on the circumstances of each case … [E]ach child’s purpose or reasons for missing school should be examined individually in order to determine whether the absences are willful beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Millis Public Schools vs M.P. and others is important because it supports children who cannot attend school because they have a mental or medical illness and helps these children avoid the court system and allows them to focus on their well-being and health care needs.'

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com