Posted on May 10, 2023
By Nina Peckman, ACNJ Education Staff Attorney
Mental health and wellness have received increased attention over the past few years. Prior to the pandemic, calls from parents regarding behavior issues were typically centered around the school disciplinary responses. Requests for help for a child refusing to attend school or being barred due to mental health concerns were rare. But, since September 2021, I have received more calls from parents and professionals regarding children who are experiencing mental health issues that keep them from attending school, or whose academics are suffering because of these issues. The most common requests for assistance have been for children who refuse to attend school because of anxiety or depression, or who were excluded from school by their districts because of mental health concerns arising out of a statement made by the child or their conduct.
What parents can to do address their child's mental health and its impact in school
To address concerns regarding your child’s mental health and how it is impacting them in school, here are some steps you can take:
If your child is in general education:
- Discuss concerns with your child’s guidance counselor about what your child is experiencing in or out of school that is affecting their emotional health. You can request counseling services if you think it is merited.
- If your child’s academics are being affected and/or your child is continually disciplined, write to the principal to request a meeting with the Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) team to discuss and develop a plan to provide academic, counseling, and behavior supports.
- For problems that are seriously impacting your child’s ability to learn in school, consider writing to the child study team to request an evaluation, including a psychiatric evaluation and social/emotional assessment through the school psychologist.
If your child has an IEP or 504 plan:
- Request a meeting with the Child Study Team in writing to talk about concerns, including bullying and discipline incidents, or to request other child study team evaluations and/or the need for IEP/504 plan changes. Note, even though the end of the school year is fast approaching, these evaluation meetings can also take place over the summer.
For all children in need of mental health services, seek out community-based counseling and consider family counseling:
- Request information from the guidance counselor or I&RS team about counseling services.
- Request a referral for an evaluation or counseling service from your child’s pediatrician.
- Consider contacting the Children’s System of Care, which provides individual and family counseling, including in the home, at no cost to the parent. You can call anytime at 877-652-7624.
- Have your child evaluated privately by a psychiatrist in the community.
Note, waitlists are common for community-based services - make appointments in advance and check back regularly.
If you disagree with your school’s decision to remove your child from school pending a mental health clearance or with how your school staff is addressing mental health concerns, you should immediately challenge these actions. It is best to discuss your options with an attorney or advocate. Contact me directly at email@example.com or 973-643-3876, ext. 226.