Mental health advisory council reports progress to legislative committee

Several legislators on Wednesday applauded the work of an advisory panel that is working on a wide range of issues addressing mental health in schools.

The Kansas School Mental Health Advisory Council was formed after an effort last year to adopt legislation called Erin’s Law, which would have mandated education officials undergo training on detecting child sexual abuse. The legislation was approved by the House but stalled in the Senate.

The advisory council has worked on developing an online training module to recognize and report child sexual abuse. It has also set a longterm goal of providing a comprehensive system of mental health services for students.

Studies have shown that approximately 20 percent of children and youth have an identified need for mental health services but only one-third of these children receive services. Of those receiving mental health services, 70 percent will receive them at their school.

Those on the advisory council have said while the mental health needs of students have increased, community services have been cut. They said partnerships have to be strengthened between schools and communities.

“Schools can’t do this alone,” Kathy Busch, who is chair of the advisory council and vice chair of the State Board of Education, told the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

State Rep. Debbie Deere, D-Lansing, who is on the Lansing USD 469 school board, praised the work of the advisory council. “The work that you are doing in these trainings is fantastic and will continue to benefit our students more and more,” Deere said.

State Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said much of the reason for Erin’s Law stalling in the Legislature was because there was concern about curriculum that would be shared with students about sexual abuse. He urged Busch and State Board of Education Chairman Jim Porter to consult with the Legislature before a sexual abuse curriculum was used.

Porter said the board recognized the subject is sensitive and that it would move cautiously.

Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, said he believed the appointment of the advisory council, on which he serves as a member, turned out much better than simply passing another mandated school training. “Maybe this serves as a model going forward,” he said. “I have a much higher level of awareness about the far-reaching implications of trauma on children.”

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