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Bill would hire more mental health pros to work in schools

Delaware Public Media

A piece of legislation meant to improve mental health services in Delaware schools is advancing in the state House.

HB 100 would hire more full time counsellors and school psychologists at First State schools for grades K-5. It would require at least one counsellor for every 250 students and one psychologist for every 700 students.

The bill cites National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) data which says one in five youth are affected by a mental health disorder, and 50 percent of lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14.

The measure has wide bipartisan support, but a steep $24 million fiscal note.

Its primary sponsor, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, argues the bill pays for itself.

“One in five children have a mental health issue, and that can later lead on to homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration,” said Longhurst. “So we’re either paying on the front end or the back end, and this bill is kind of a preventative measure.”

Longhurst says she’s started with the younger grades, but plans to reintroduce a version of the bill for later grades in the future.

“I think the root of the problem starts at a very young age as a child’s brain is developing and what they’re seeing and not knowing what to cope with outside, home-life, things that are going on around them,” she said.

The bill was approved by the House Education Committee and now goes to the Joint Finance Committee for appropriations.