Report finds decrease in mental health help for Black and Latino students

By: - September 7, 2022 3:59 pm

The report finds access to mental health staff in school has been declining for Black and Latino students since 2008. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Over the past decade, access to in-school mental health services has decreased for Black and Latino students while slightly increasing for white and Asian students, according to a new analysis of state data.

The report, from left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, notes that because of New Jersey’s higher poverty rates for children of color, and the “profound influence” poverty has on mental health, the trends should cause great concern.

“New Jersey’s Black and Hispanic/Latinx students are more likely to live in poverty … even as their access to mental health professionals is decreasing,” the report says.

The group analyzed students’ access to mental health staff — including nurses, counselors, psychologists, anti-bullying specialists, and substance use coordinators — by using public school staffing and enrollment data from the state Department of Education.

New Jersey Policy Perspective is now calling for increased long-term funding for mental health access for students of color, and also urging lawmakers to pay attention to staffing trends in the state’s public schools.

“Monitoring the deployment of school personnel of all types by student race — and by other student characteristics — should be the regular and ongoing work of policymakers,” the report states.

In 2008, the statewide average of mental health professionals in public schools was 8.2 per 1,000 students. The ratio increased to 8.6 per 1,000 students in 2020.

For white students, the average rose from 7.4 mental health staffers per 1,000 students in 2008 to 8.5 in 2020, while the number for Black students decreased from 10.3 to 8.5. For Latino students, staffers also declined from an average of 9 per 1,000 students to 8.4 in that timeframe, the report says.

Asian students have lower levels of access to school nurses than their peers — for every 1,000 Asian students, they have 1.7 nurses, while the average number of nurses for Black, Hispanic, and white students is around 2 per 1,000, according to the report.

School counselor staffing has remained below the recommended four counselors per 1,000 students for every demographic since 2009. While Black students met that level of access in 2008, it dropped to 2.6 in 2020. Meanwhile, white students saw their access increase from 2.7 counselors to 3.2 between 2008 and 2020.

New Jersey Policy Perspective found Black and Hispanic students have increased access to social workers compared to white and Asian students, but those numbers are declining as well.

The group argues that because students of color are more likely to live in poverty, they have greater mental health needs. It pointed to research linking student mental health and school discipline, pointing out that New Jersey schools suspend Black and Latino students at higher rates than white students, leading to increased absences. 

“The unequal discipline meted out to students of color is, therefore, yet another indicator that they are not getting access to the mental health supports they need,” the report states.

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

 

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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