Fewer mental health professionals working in San Diego schools

Innovations and improved budget outlook may help

A child at risk is becoming more of a focus with each passing day along with awareness of the need for help skyrocketing after the tragedy in Connecticut.

The San Diego Unified School District has 233 counselors, 130 school psychologists and 85 mental health clinicians. That is down about 10 percent since the state budget crisis hammered the school system.

San Diego Education Association president Bill Freeman says he is troubled by all of the cuts.

"We have to do everything we can to ensure that our kids are safe," said Freeman. "Be it having sufficient nurses, sufficient counselors, the proper security."

Outside counseling throughout the county is provided through programs such as one developed by Mental Health Systems in Kearny Mesa. It targets children, parents, and teachers working together on-site.

"[We're] providing that whole array of services from counseling services, education to the families," said Philip Hanger, who is with Mental Health Systems. "We also provide parenting skills as well to the families."

He said one key is to be truthful, reassuring and warm.

"Ask the child to describe their feelings… to be comfortable about talking about their feelings and showing them ways to respond to their feelings without using aggression or violence," said Hanger.

Society has seen mental illness growing and that filters down to children.

San Diego police have seen a steep increase in distress calls of that nature.

San Diego Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long told 10News, "The fact of the matter is since 2008, we've seen an almost 53 percent increase in calls for service in the San Diego Police Department for persons in crisis. Our intent is to turn that number around."

Bill Kowba, the superintendent of San Diego Unified, said the district is emergency ready as well.

"We have a crisis response team that will respond situationally when there is a particular need at a given campus or campuses, but I think we're trying to reassure and reaffirm that we're ready and we have been ready," said Kowba.

He is also hoping the state sends more money this way next year.


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