This month the NC Child Fatality Task Force released its annual report documenting the trends in child fatalities and mental health needs of our children and making recommendations to improve their health, safety, and well-being. February also marks the release of Hopeful Future Campaign’s report America’s School Mental Health Report Card. Taken together, these reports highlight some clear steps NC should take to address the health of our students.
The Child Fatality Task Force (CFTF) is the policy arm of the Child Fatality Prevention System (CFPS) created in 1991 to study and understand causes of childhood death, develop a community-wide approach to child abuse and neglect and make and implement recommendations for laws, rules, and policies to support the safe and healthy development of children. The CFTF studies the data, hears from experts and leaders in the field, and formulates recommendations submitted annually to the Governor and NC General Assembly.
Data collected by the CFTF shows a steadily worsening picture for youth mental health prior to COVID-19. Between 2011 and 2019:
- The percentage of high school students who strongly agree or agree that they feel good about themselves dropped from 80.0% to 60.4%.
- The percentage of high school students who strongly agree or agree that they feel alone in their life increased from 18.9% to 30.5%.
- The percentage of high school students who felt sad or hopeless increased from 28.3% to 36.3%.
Between 2016 and 2019 the number of self-harm/self-inflicted injury emergency department visits for NC residents aged 10 – 18 increased 16.5% from 2,911 to 3,394 while the number of hospitalizations dropped slightly from 573 to 566.
And even more distressing, as shown in the graph below, between 2013 and 2019, 16% percent of heterosexual respondents and 44% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual respondents to the NC High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past 12 months.
Data collected during the pandemic shows that the situation has become worse. Mental Health America collects data from people searching for online mental health services and reported a 9% increase between 2019 and 2020 in the number of youth aged 11-17 accessing the screenings. Their finding showed that youths aged 11-17 were more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Of 11-17 year-olds who took a mental health screen in 2020:
- Over 80% who took an anxiety screen scored for moderate to severe anxiety.
- Over 90% who took a depression screen scored for moderate to severe depression.
These numbers signal a clear call to action. Our students need mental health support more than ever. For the past several years, the CFTF has heard from numerous experts about the important connection between the mental and physical health of students and their ability to learn. Schools’ ability to meet the needs of their students is dependent on the strength of their specialized instructional support team: school social worker, nurse, counselor, and psychologist. However, in NC, funding for these positions has been insufficient, so the recommended student-staff ratios are not being met. Current ratios are shown below with the recommended number in parentheses.
- School Counselors = 1:353 (1:250)
- School Nurses = 1:1,007 (1:750)
- School Social Workers = 1:1,289 (1:250)
- School Psychologists = 1:1,798 (1:550)
Based on the data and advice of experts, CFTF submitted the following legislative recommendation: Appropriate recurring funding to increase the number of school social workers, school nurses, school counselors, and school psychologists to support the physical and mental health of students and to move North Carolina toward achieving nationally recommended ratios for these professional positions in schools.
This is a recommendation legislators can act on in the short session beginning in May.