National Alliance on Mental Illness
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School Resource Officers Speak Out on Children’s Mental Health

by Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D., director, NAMI Child & Adolescent Action Center and Laura Usher, CIT Coordinator, NAMI

Children's Mental HealthIt’s not every day that you get the opportunity to sit down with 35 school resource officers (SROs) and find out what’s on their minds. SROs have a unique perspective as law enforcement officers working in schools to ensure the safety of students and school staff. With the help of Lt. David Anders from the Lake Charles (La.) Police Department, this is exactly what NAMI staff did in November 2009. Our conversation, which focused on the mental health needs of young people in schools, is the subject of a newly released report titled, “A Focus Group Report: A Conversation with CIT Trained School Resource Officers.”

Schools cannot afford to ignore this report. What the SROs reported from Southwest Louisiana is what NAMI routinely hears from families across the country regarding the needs of students with mental health conditions. They are not faring well in our nation’s schools, and they have the highest dropout rate of any disability group.

The focus group is part of a larger NAMI initiative to expand the use of police crisis intervention teams (CIT) specifically designed to respond to children and youth in crisis. For 20 years CIT programs have improved the outcomes of police interactions between police and people living with mental illness. This has been accomplished by creating partnerships between advocates, mental health providers and law enforcement and providing training to law enforcement officers.

What the SROs revealed was striking. Concerns about the lack of school resources to respond to children with mental health needs echo the concerns NAMI has heard from families for years. Specifically, the SROs called on schools to provide more on-site mental health services, better linkages to services in the community and better teacher training on mental health.

SROs asked to be involved in planning to assist students rather than simply being called on in a crisis. Although the SROs in the focus group were trained about mental health issues through Lake Charles’ adult CIT program, they asked for more targeted training on issues they encounter in schools. They cited suicide attempts, self-injurious behaviors and substance abuse as being of great importance..

According to the SROs, families also need help—they struggle to get effective services for their child while trying to cope with the challenges their child presents at home.

Law enforcement agencies around the country have shown tremendous leadership in adopting CIT programs. NAMI is so pleased to see their interest in our CIT for youth initiative. NAMI calls on schools to join law enforcement in recognizing the critical need to better address the mental health needs of students in our nation’s schools.

Learn from the NAMI CIT Technical Assistance Resource Center.